Trying to pick up way too much way too fast, forgetting what it means to be a person. In a world where egos are measured with tabloids, where automobiles are like morals, where beliefs are like naps, you leave them behind when somebody touches you. And in a place where oil takes precedence over life …Slow down and hold what you see just a while longer…
Dear social media,
You are so much more than two words and eleven letters.You are Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Pinterest. You have been, and always will be, there for me.
When international development studies gets to be too much, I turn to you. Sometimes I shamefully close tabs about food security issues in the Sahel region, the recent kidnapping of two Japanese men by ISIS, and the Toronto woman charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder of her parents. Instead, I open Youtube so I can chuckle at an overweight boy with a pie crust around his face sing about pie. It’s great.
Pie crusts aside, I’ve also seen real value in your work. Remember the #BellLetsTalk campaign that Bell hosted for mental health? I retweeted the hell out of that hashtag so I was integral in donating and supporting Canadian mental health. (You go girl). Not only were 5 cents donated whenever Bell (oh, and the campaign) was mentioned on Facebook and Twitter or when calls and texts were made by Bell users, mental illness also became the hot topic for the week.
On a more serious note, there was the #BringOurGirlsBack campaign in April 2014 when over 200 Nigerian girls were abducted by Boko Haram. Initially started by Nigerian bloggers, the #BringOurGirlsBack campaign you had on Twitter and Facebook challenged internet users to vocalize their opposition against the rebel extremists.
Last but not least, you shared the infamous #Kony2012 campaign by Invisible Children (IC). Even before IC’s hashtag campaign, I wanted to support them in whatever way I could because I believed in their cause. In 2010, I turned to my dad and asked him to buy me the Invisible Children bracelets because, “dad, I’m really trying to make a difference here”. Of course my father, being the wise man he is, turned down my request because buying into campaigns like that lines pockets of the privileged more than it improves the lives of those in need.
Moving forward, the #Kony2012 campaign rallied the efforts of hundreds and thousands of youth and young adults. I applaud the production and marketing team for doing a phenomenal job. I was moved to tears and compelled to take action…by sharing the video.
Now, social media, this is where I become a little harsh towards you. A few days ago, I came across an ad campaign by Crisis Relief Singapore that gave me a virtual slap across the face. Based around the tagline “liking isn’t helping”, these ads feature powerful images of desolate situations around the world.
Each image is surrounded by hands giving the thumbs-up sign to mimic the Facebook “like” sign. The ads are simple but the message is clear. Clicking, sharing or liking does not make a tangible difference.
Did you know that our generation of internet users have been deemed “slacktivists” for this very reason? I’m not kidding. Slacktivism is recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary and defined as “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement.”
One extreme of the slacktivism argument boldly claims that slacktivists should be ashamed of participating in hashtag and colour campaigns because it isn’t genuine action. A study by University of British Columbia found that those who “liked” a cause were less likely to donate. In their minds, “liking” or retweeting a cause online equates to taking action.
But here’s the shocker. #BringBackOurGirls didn’t bring back our girls and pink ribbons won’t beat breast and gynecological cancer. In fact, in October 2014, 219 of the 276 Nigerian girls still remained in captivity. Interestingly enough, that didn’t make the headlines.
The other side of the argument suggests that you, social media, are useful in inspiring people, spreading best practice and raising awareness of important philanthropic causes. You are the ideal way to share how people’s support for a cause can make a difference. You are important in raising awareness and allowing people to stay current with top headlines.
I straddle the sentiments of both of these arguments. While I do see value in initially raising awareness on social media sites, I am disappointed to see that all too often, it ends there. You put pressing issues in people’s mind and temporarily succeed in seeping into household conversations but like all other trends, it passes. Action stops when that “like” button changes to “unlike”.
Let me be honest with you, my hands aren’t clean in this. I constantly remind myself that liking a campaign or retweeting a hashtag is the bare minimum of support. It’s impossible to solve world issues with the click of a button.
The uncomfortable reality is this: we are slacktivists. However, I do believe that we are change makers. We are in a unique era that allows us to leverage all forms of technology and networks to improve lives and because of that, I am optimistic that our the generation will bring change. We just need to get off our butts.
So help me out, social media. Help me inspire people to create genuine dialogue about current affairs. Help me challenge people to contact local and international organizations, university clubs and government officials who support their interests. I know you have it in you to bring some real change
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What do you think? Is social media important in combating world issues or is it just turning us into slacktivists? Have you ever been caught between the crossfires of meaningful campaigns and social media?
Before I tell you more, let me give you a little back story. I started my university career in Arts and Business, majoring in Social Development Studies. The events up to that point of my life seemed to point me in that direction. I was a keener who set myself up for the life I thought I wanted to have.
I spent a few summers volunteering with UrbanPromise Toronto and Toronto City Missions during high school. Both of these organizations aim to provide spiritual, social and educational development or children, youth and families living in Toronto Community Housing. Bam. Social Development Studies.
I also spent a huge chunk of time with Camp Trillium where I spent my last summer of highschool and my first summer of university working there. Camp Trillium is an oncology camp that exists to provide a normalizing recreational experience for children and families who’ve experienced childhood cancer. (I highly recommend checking them if you want more information, know someone who would be interested or if you’re interested in volunteering with them.) Bam. Social Development Studies. Again.
So naturally, when I switched my program from Arts and Business to International Development, my life was bound to change. Without further ado, here are the three most valuable lessons that have shaped me since switching my program to International Development.
1. International Development will make you age a little bit faster
And no, I’m not talking about grey hairs and crows feet. What I’m talking about is media and culture. Goodbye to the days of buying expensive clothes, eating junk food and watching random TV Shows. Well, not entirely. While I still indulge from time to time, I found that I’ve started to try to be more sustainable with my choices and opting for the more “educational” TV alternative. Let me rephrase. The day you choose to watch a documentary or a TedTalk over a TV show about a mysterious person who causes terror and mayhem to a group of 4 “high school” girls (I’m talking about you, Pretty Little Liars), is the day you grow up. You won’t anticipate that day, it’ll just come.
2. International development will turn your life upside down
Growing up, I always pictured myself doing to what I knew: music, business or education. It wasn’t until last year when it struck me. I never thought I’d ever admit to myself that I would be interested in a field that focuses on international waste management systems . Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to any aspect of it but I always saw myself living out my life with a “Western” career. Nowadays, I’m inspired about what has developed from the waste management sector in the global South, from Cairo’s informal waste pickers, the Zabbaleen, to Manila’s waste scavengers in an integrated network in Quezon City. I guess it’s true what they say, another man’s trash is another man’s treasure
3. International development will make you uncomfortable
Along with turning your life upside down, International Development will make you uncomfortable. Last term, I took Culture and Ethics with the brilliant Dr. Serilis. She teaches the kind of class that makes you think about the world differently. She challenged us to think outside of our Western bubble and to think of people as people instead of them as objects or subjects. But the biggest thing that I took from her class is the cruel and unsettling reality that comfort is our great enemy to progress. In the words of Dr. Seirlis (or paraphrasing her, rather), “don’t be confined to society’s teleological narrative. Force yourself to think differently. Question the familiar”
So that’s what this blog is about. It’s my attempt to remain inspired by everything that’s around me, but at the same time, to be conscious enough to see past the coordinates of our system.
This calls for some “untamed” conversations.