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Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Facebook Just Changed The World

The lion of Egyptian revolution (Qasr al-Nil Bridge)
In the last few weeks, Holly and I have spent a lot of time talking to middle and high school students about their digital footprints. Much of what we discussed has already been blogged about here. But, we also tried to leave them with something important to ponder. Their generation will invent the next Twitter or Facebook, the next iPad or iPhone. We challenged them to consider the unintended consequences, both good and bad, of technological innovation. It made me wonder what Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, the creators of Facebook and Twitter, think about the upheaval and change in Africa and the Middle East.

Don Tapscott, blogging for the Huffington Post, claims that, "If Twitter, Facebook and YouTube didn't exist, Hosni Mubarak would still be president of Egypt. The social media tools gave Mubarak's opponents unprecedented ability to share information and organize their activities, including the massive protests which riveted the world's attention." Some might counter that the revolution would have happened anyway and they might be right, but I think there is something else we should be focusing on here.

Most of the discussion about social media tends to focus on the negative; we're wasting too much time, kids are bullying each other, privacy is a thing of the past. But technology also has the ability to improve lives. Let's consider the current definition of the word "news." Not long ago, we primarily received the news of our nation and world through a couple of TV anchors and editors of newspapers and magazines. Today, 'news' is reported 24/7 by virtually anyone who wants to have a say. We can listen to the perspectives of experts and average citizens interchangeably. Though some may lament the loss of editorial control (and editing in general), the fact that the Internet has become a global town hall can't be disputed. What do we gain from this? For one, we benefit from the ability to hear the perspectives and voices of people who are very different from us. Not only can we hear from those who disagree with our perspectives, we can also listen to people who we would never have known existed just a few decades ago, save for global population statistics. Although the billions of voices tweeting, blogging, commenting and updating their Facebook status may at times blend into an indecipherable roar, one thing has surely changed: the premise that history is written by the winners.

My Library Website (ca. 2007) via the Wayback Machine
If it is true that anything published on the web will be there for eternity, in one form or another, then the voices of the losers, those in the minority, of young people and the very old, of the poor and the destitute may not fade away to be lost to everyone but the archeologists and historians of the future. Instead, we'll all be able to mine the accumulated data to help us remember what our past was like in the digital world, much like the Wayback Machine tries to do now.

Did Twitter and Facebook help cause a revolution? History will surely tell the tale, a history that will most likely be written in a very different manner than the way it's been done in the past. I hope that the young people we are raising and educating today will use their own experiences, both good and bad, in the digital world to contribute positively to our collective future. It's true that just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. On the flip side, there are probably some fabulously important things we should be doing with the technology available today. Let's encourage young people to be the ones to do it!

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