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Cats and Mubarak: Technology Inspires Youth Apathy, Also Connects

walt peterson



By Walt Peterson

It’s that time of year when we’ll get to hear a variety of folk share wisdom with new graduates. Over the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll post a speech or two.

This month my older son, Walt, graduates from Little Rock Central High School. Yes, the school where in 1957 Eisenhower sent in federal troops over segregation. And there are still many miles to go on that issue, at Central and everywhere else.

Here’s a guest post, a piece Walt wrote for the school paper, where he’s been the co-editor. (His next adventure: film school.) —TRP

Our generation is more connected to the rest of the world than any before it. The invention and evolution of the internet opened the door for a massive exchange of ideas and information on a daily basis; a reality that would have seemed like science fiction only 20 years ago. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or computer can access everything from world history to celebrity tweets in a matter of seconds. But somewhere in this awesome power lies a subtle sickness that’s not easily turned off.

Scrolling through websites like Facebook or Reddit, we see clashes between different ideologies over some of the world’s most serious issues right next to silly cat videos, advertisements for creepy sexualized internet games, conspiracy theories, some guy taking pictures of himself in his bathroom mirror—the list really does go on and on. How are we supposed to process such an insane amount of content? How do we determine what’s genuine and what’s just another “Kony 2012?” It seems like the easiest (and most popular) solution is to simply not care.

Like a Horror Movie

Who can blame us? Every day there’s some new horror and some new cause, each more disturbing than the last, pushing us to accept a life of cynicism. So instead we do our best to tune it all out. Maybe we pretend it’s not real, like a horror movie, covering our eyes at the scary parts. But even after all this—after all the screens are turned off—we can’t forget what we’ve seen.

And we’ve seen it all: HIV/AIDS, poverty, hunger, sex trafficking, modern slavery, teen suicide, school shootings, power-blinded dictators, torture, war, obesity, materialism, drug addiction, gang violence, global warming, natural disasters, nuclear weapons, child soldiers, labor exploitation, _________, _________, _________.

Eventually, it all blends together and becomes that thing. The thing that we don’t want to hear about but that makes sure we do. The thing that’s so incredibly huge and complex we have no idea how to even begin addressing it. The thing that stays with us. It has no name and many names, but it’s the same for all of us.

The Power of Human Connection

The Egyptian youth living under the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak realized this. But instead of accepting their world for what it was, they started thinking there could be something better, something to fight for. Thanks to the internet, this new hope spread like wildfire, catching onto peoples’ newsfeeds and into their minds. Within a short period of time, the people went to the streets and forced the resignation of their oppressor. While the battle did not end there (and hasn’t ended yet), the revolution, born on Facebook and Twitter, proved the power of human connection.

If we can use this same power to stop running and face the problems of the world together, as humans with the same fears and compassion, there is absolutely no telling the impact it could have. We can turn our extreme apathy into extreme determination the world will change. Because despite how we feel looking directly into the darkest parts of the world, we are not alone, and when we are not alone, we can achieve anything.

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