The World’s New Superhero…?

25 06 2009

Perhaps the post should have been entitled “Can the Internet Save the World?”. But the above sounds better. Anyway, it’s an interesting question, which perhaps should be expanded to include ‘technology’.

I ask this bearing in mind Gordon Brown’s recent comments about Rwanda. It is an entirely debatable issue of course, but it is an interesting starting point. Would the Rwandan atrocities have happened had Twitter, YouTube, Facebook et al been in their pomp at the time? I think they probably would have, except that the world would have been much more aware of what was happening at the time. Fergal Keane’s writing about the subject was, for me, a brief glimpse into the events of the massacres. It’s well worth hunting down his book “Season of Blood” and giving it a read. It’s pretty harrowing in parts, but worth it. However, they have largely escaped media attention, and indeed, analysis. Perhaps, given how far the internet reaches into the lives of millions of people, if not billions, a crude youtube video of some of the events would have brought home the atrocity of the Hutu actions.

But what would the reaction have been? Perhaps the same as that towards the video of Neda Agha-Soltan that is now doing the rounds. I am not going to provide a link simply because it is there to be found, if you can bring yourself to watch the last thirty seconds of an innocent womans life. It’s not a comfortable watch. I find it is made worse because it is obviously in a foreign language. For me it increases the sense of helplessness I feel just watching it. Anyway, the point was that it has, despite some comments, been largely ignored. The Independent had a small article on the story on page 18, a page after it had declared that Silvio Berlusconi was like Teflon, with nothing sticking to him. Ok, so a story about Italian elections is important, but more attention should have been paid to the face of a cause that Neda has now become, at least in my opinion.

I’m not sure why there has not been more coverage than this, but I suspect there is something to do with uncomfortability floating around somewhere. By which I mean, it is not easy viewing for the public, despite it’s presence on the internet. The version of the video I saw had had 131,123 viewings in little over three days. Yet people will not know about Neda, who she was, or what she has come to stand for, despite this internet presence.

So I return to the original point, does Brown have a point when he says that the internet has made foreign policy very different now? Again, I’m not convinced. Yes, things such as this will be put online. But that’s just a by-product of the events. People in Iran know about the power of the internet, yet there are still disturbing scenes pouring out of the country on a daily basis. It has done nothing to stop the problems, it simply has made it more accessible to the rest of the world. The internet will not stop violence, it will not stop murders, or indeed, genocide. All it can do is to make them more internationally condemnable.

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The Lamentation of Age…

14 06 2008

Whilst returning to the countryside once again, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a group of what I presumed to be colleagues grumbling about the internet (actually I could help it, but the conversation was interesting). One of the group, who appeared to be the nosy, talkative, office busybody observed that they were to be the last, and I quote, “private generation” due to social networking sites, which, according to another member of the group, seem to do more harm than good.

The idea of a “private” and a “public” generation was one which interested me, hence I kept listening to the conversation, until I had to get off the train. Essentially, the argument ran, due to the advent of the internet, the ease with which information can be obtained about someone has grown. Social networking sites such as Facebook or Myspace, only serve to make this even easier, with everything from age, to phone number to interests listed in various forms. This ease, it was generally thought, was a bad thing.

And to some extent I agree. But only to some extent. I accept that it can be a bad thing, but, and here’s the important bit, the person responsible for their page can put as much or as little information as he or she wants. If you do not want everyone knowing that you absolutely love the Arctic Monkeys, don’t put it down. It’s simple isn’t it. The premise of the group on the train was that you simply have to put as much information down as possible, and have to make it easy for people to find out about you. This creates what the busybody termed the “public generation”. Where everything about you is available to the public to read and devour at will. The private generation was the older one (and I will generalise here by suggesting everyone over about 30) who do not live their lives through the internet or networking sites.

This whole conversation was though brought home when listening to the radio in the car. Radio 1’s Newsbeat reported that one of the adverts on Facebook was “sinister” and targeted young women, convincing them that they need to lose weight, when, in reality they are perfectly healthy. The written report is here. Young people (women especially, although not always) do seem overly sensitive to their weight, and adverts like this can have a negative effect on people who, due to the effects of puberty, exams, relationships and the media, are especially vulnerable.

Personalised adverts are not uncommon. Facebook has been using them for a while. I, for example, get adverts about how to manage my debt, telling me where to buy music tickets, and asking me whether I want to become a cricket writer. They are set to become more common, as BT and another internet company (I cannot remember the name though) are working on new technology to create specific adverts based upon your searched terms. Which I have no problem with, as long as they are responsible, and do not, like the Facebook advert, send out the wrong messages to the wrong people.

Are we the first “public” generation then? The answer is probably a yes. The real question is whether this is a bad thing. I would argue not. As long as there is a sense of intelligence to what is available, and how easily accessible this is.