Moving Beyond Apathy: the role of the media in connecting an online generation

Kilian Raiser’s parents witnessed the historic fall of the Berlin wall. In today’s world, the Internet has created a sense of connectedness and immediacy that has come to play a strong role in politics. As part of the online generation, Kilian raises the important question of whether the internet has made young people less or more involved in large-scale political events than previous generations. 

My mother was an East German. She was there on November 9th, 1989. She witnessed first hand the ability for a collective of human beings to stand together to achieve their goals. Her account of that night is infectious.

The fact that my dad, a West German, thought he was dreaming when late at night my mom called him from a hotel in West Berlin, ecstatic with adrenaline, emotion, and champagne, lifts the story out of our grounded realities into the fairy-tale worlds of our imagination. And yet it happened, so why not again?

©Daniel Antal /Creative Commons License

©Daniel Antal /Creative Commons License

Every generation has had their achievements. Our modern, post World War 2 history has seen many youth led revolutions and social transformations from the birth of the welfare state, to student protests in Paris, to Tiananmen square to the Arab spring. The media has played a massive role in this. Through our allegiances to radio and television, to newspapers or blogs, we are bound together beyond the geographical demarcations of nationality, state or city.

When Obama was first running for President, one of the first news stories I followed daily, I was suddenly bound to a nation I bore no real connection to. We all, in our own ways, read the news [feed] so adamantly in hope of witnessing something extraordinary. So, June 5th, 2013, reading about the NSA leaks I wasn’t surprised about the breadth of the surveillance, although it was still shocking to see it so blatantly presented. Rather than outrage, I thought, this could be it, our generations’ Berlin wall!

The leaks definitely helped fuel a wider realisation that our supposed freedom was maybe false. It got us talking. And yet we accepted the reality of our fears, and moved on. Although the truth was offensive to our ideologies, we already knew that our so-called democratic freedom, the liberal, ever forward gazing ideal of that “western” role model was at best a fairy-tale. Unwilling to try and change this, our apathy had won.

In this behaviour, we as a generation exhibit a painstaking naivety in our dismissal of those issues that will shape the legacy we leave behind. In 2013 the British government announced plans to privatise student debt. Of a total of 14,000 students at the University of East Anglia, maybe 100 turned up to march against the policy, probably less. Of these, at least 10 were international students, devoid of any debt, participants out of pure idealism. How, if we are unable to campaign for our own well-being, will we be able to end poverty or discrimination, or even avoid a climate apocalypse?

We are bombarded daily by the breadth and speed of modern media. Our filters numbed by wave after wave of violence, racism, and tax evasion. By celebrities, football, and an endless library of entertainment, updated hourly, for our personal pleasures. Finding our voice through all this information is no doubt a daunting task. Slowly though, our generation seems to be coming together.

©DonkeyHotey /Creative Commons License

©DonkeyHotey /Creative Commons License

Racial tensions in America have rekindled our yearning for an end to discrimination. Some of our young idols have become powerful voices, speaking out for sexual equality. Together we are marching, pressuring our leaders to take responsibility for the future, to affect meaningful change. And all the time we are connected through that beautiful World Wide Web. No generation before us has been so connected, so able to stand together devoid of geographical boundaries.

The extent of our success in tackling climate change will define us. No matter the efforts we employ to end poverty or discrimination, if we do not find a way to successfully avert climate breakdown, our other achievements will be marred by failure. We have had our mouths glued to fossil fuel taps, drunk with wealth and comfort, our bar tab of environmental and human devastation gaining lengths.

So, when Alan Rusbridger recently explained why The Guardian is running a special monthly program on climate change and the environment I once again felt that shiver of hopefulness, the excitement of the prospect of change. This is truly “the biggest story in the world”. So my eyes are glued to the newspaper again, excited by what I am reading, excited by where this could lead us.

The problem with reporting climate change is that it is not news. No matter the evidence, we know what is happening, we are aware of what needs to change, and yet we have so far been unable to do so. So how do we read something that isn’t news? How do we write about climate change so that all who read our article are astounded, so that the way in which we present such common content remains extraordinary? We just continue writing. We continue enabling that connection between people, continue breaking down the boundaries of nations, states and cities, we continue giving people a platform to discuss and to support each other, to stand together with the common goal of change.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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