The social-media fueled uprisings sweeping the Middle East and Africa remind me of my own kids’ connection to their various media gadgets.
I have a cell phone with unlimited texting so I can stay in contact with my daughters — Adrianne in North Carolina and Leslie in Nebraska. But such popular communication devices, whether overseas or at home, create sometimes dangerous distractions.
Four years ago, when Leslie was a Kansas City Art Institute student, a friend called upset about what nearly happened. Leslie was walking from her Warwick Boulevard apartment to the art institute library.
Like a lot of young people, she was distracted by a pocket-size media gadget she was using rather than staying alert to avoid danger. Technology’s silky siren song always seems more important to young people.
An art institute friend said someone who knew her and Leslie noticed a suspicious man was following Leslie. But Leslie, connected to her gadget, had no clue.
She entered the art institute library, and the man followed. Fortunately, a friend was close behind them and became more concerned.
A call went to security. The stalker fled, and was never seen again. Leslie got lectured about staying alert to stay safe.
But I wonder about such situations now as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social media rivet more young people to cell phone apps here and in such hot spots as Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The movement for change is fueled by young people who are connected via social media.
They are communicating their frustrations with the economy, their inability to find good-paying jobs, and the autocratic dictatorial rule that has maintained an iron fist of control over them and their families. What’s worse is they see no future for themselves.
The status quo flew apart after a jobless Tunisian man set himself afire because of a hopelessness. That December spark ignited the protests.
Oppressive regimes like those in Tunisia and Egypt — like stalkers — are threatening, but for the most part, not pouncing. The international supporters for the protesters are watching out for the often distracted young people who are immersed in their social media and the moment and not fully aware of the danger surrounding them.
Perhaps the cell phones, apps and other electronic gadgets with social media connections add to young people feeling more bulletproof and invincible today. They feel empowered in a new age of nonviolent resistance.
The danger now is in places like Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi’s troops and thugs have tried violently to end the protests. People involved in the uprisings have been attacked mercilessly by Gadhafi’s better-armed forces. The international community felt an urgency to intervene.
The result has been a no-fly zone over Libya with the United States attacking with more than 130 Tomahawk missiles and warplanes including the stealth bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
Barack Obama, who emerged as president of the United States largely because of social media, ultimately will be credited with keeping social media-focused young people from more harm.
Youth is impulsive and reactionary. Mix in social media, and it’s easy to see why young people need guardian angels like Obama and other watchful international friends in order for old parents everywhere to breathe easier.
Of course the gadgets can’t stop bullets or shield kids from tear gas, beatings and other violence. Also, Obama’s and the U.S. military’s intervention in Libya have limits.
Young people have to stay alert and active in ensuring their own safety while working for change locally and globally.
Gadhafi’s forces like those in other Middle East countries will try to hold on to power. But what’s clear is the world forever changes this year, possibly affecting the global economy, energy distribution, jobs, wages and certainly how we consume information.
How it ends is anyone’s guess. We’ll just have to keep our heads up and see how our children make it happen while staying out of harm’s way.