This post is part two of a series on Bloggers and New Media. You can read part one here.
An interesting topic that arose during the BBC debate last month was that of youth and politics. It’s a topic I’ve tried to address here a few times before. What’s interesting about it in my opinion is its relevancy to blogging.
The question that was posed during the debate was why our youth are not discussing enough politics.
The reasons brought up include many that I agree with.
One: we’re sick of politics. It’s the same thing over and over again. There are no solutions to our problems, no resolutions to our conflicts so there’s no sense in wasting breath.
Two: we are powerless. Our voice is meaningless because it cannot be translated into actions and even when that happens our actions do not seem to have any actual impact. So in short, there’s no sense in trying anymore.
Our youth, turned off by politics, have shifted their attention to things like Star Academy and Pop Idol. Doud Kuttab said something I found very interesting during the debate (and I paraphrase) “Shows like Star Academy have done more to unite the Arab world than the Arab leaders themselves”. It’s a statement I found to be sadly true. The recent win of Iraqi Shada Hassoun is said to have had the backing of both Sunni and Shi’a communities in Iraq, which is the only collective thing they’ve agreed on since 2003 it seems.
I agree with these statements to an extent but in truth I think our youth DO discuss politics. Blogging and new media mediums have simply helped in amplifying and delivering those discussions to a broader audience. The fact that the “silly” outnumbers the “serious” should be of no surprise. It’s always been like that and I don’t think it’ll ever change. The number of new religious channels that have come out of the Gulf seem to be outmatched by the number of music video channels coming out of the same region.
The traditional media has traditionally shut out young voices from political participation. The only time anyone under the age of 30 really mattered is when they were busy overthrowing something, preferably using Molotov cocktails and burning flags; something TV worthy. And this is one of the biggest reasons in my opinion as to why there is that general sentiment of lacking politics amongst the youth.
That and laziness on our part to make use of technology, a language our generation is fluent in, to our benefit. I feel that decades ago when not only governments were the major obstacle to free speech but the lack of facilities and mediums for one to express themselves as well, people were resourceful, especially when it came to the dissemination of information. The more difficult the constraints the more adamant people were towards their causes. From Gutenberg to the late 20th century, the written word was the main way of expression. Technology changed all that, it opened new worlds; blogging is its latest creation.
Blogging brought the voice back to the everyday man, and it’s no surprise most bloggers are fairly young; we speak the digital language (and often times our perspectives are just as binary)
What I’m seeing now (with youthful eyes) ironically enough, is the traditional media practically on its hands and knees begging young people to “have their say” on their respective websites. Is it the discovery that young people had something to say after all? Or is simply the attempt to appear ‘hip’ and ‘in touch’ with today’s youth?
In my opinion it’s probably a mix of both but more of the latter. And in either case it doesn’t matter. The outcome is what’s more important: the incorporation of young politically charged voices from one medium into a much larger and much global one; the latter being the traditional media.
Then comes the question of whether this will lead to anything: can bloggers use blogs to change minds?
I know it’s a constant reference on this blog but bare with me: On an episode of West Wing I was watching the other day, a Presidential candidate was told to meet with the famous political blogger Atrios; a meeting this candidate felt was too unimportant. He was told that this blogger alone gets 100,000 visits to his blog everyday; more than a variety of important newspapers.
This reminded of the role bloggers have played when it comes to politics and while it has been for the most part limited to the U.S. it will probably become more essential in the MENA region. I say this because this is the cradle of the most important conflicts in the world today and with our collective governments in the state they’re in, there’s a whole lot to talk about. There’s a whole market of people to influence; minds ready to change. If not local and regional, then international. I can’t count how many people I’ve seen simply through comments on various blogs or emails, who feel like their minds have been completely turned around regarding our culture, Islam, the issues and conflicts we face like Palestine and Iraq.
Mass media has shut them out and told them what they wanted to hear, while bloggers have offered a bridge to understanding, just by being themselves.
While I don’t think the next “big thing” will be blogger-induced, I suspect it will be blogger-influenced, or to put it in another way: it will have Arab bloggers playing a big role.