Thursday, October 27, 2011

The New Era of False Sensitisation

The New Era of False Sensitisation
You Think You Know But You Don’t

I was a student presenter at the 2009 Caribbean Culture and Media International Conference, held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in collaboration with Clark Atlanta University. I spoke, along with another student from UWI, and two from Clark Atlanta, about the ‘Convergence of Politics, Media and Culture’. I remember, during the course of our presentations, that Dr. Alice Stephens - a woman I grew to have great respect for over the duration of the conference - asked us if we, as the younger generation, felt sensitised to what was taking place in other countries around the world because of networking sites (or applications) like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blogger.

One UWI student said, “Yes.” He then proceeded to explain how he was able to receive and share information about the atrocities taking place in other countries via Twitter and Facebook, and how he could “click on links” to help save lives and send money to impoverished nations. Or something like that. He ended by saying that, yes, we were definitely more sensitised to what was taking place.

I disagreed. Not only are we not sensitised about what goes on in these other countries (forgive the double negative), we’ve fallen into a delirium of believing that we are, and that what we are doing online is somehow saving and changing lives. We believe that by putting a poster in the sidebar of our blog drawing attention to a crucial human development issue is somehow enough proof of our unflailing commitment to humanity and of how aware and ‘sensitised’ we are to global issues. But what I have found is that most times, it’s not. It’s not nearly enough. And too often, it’s a no-brainer decision that leaves us with no REAL sense of the reality others have to live with.

I think it’s a certain level of arrogance that makes us believe that we’re bestowing goodwill on the ‘lesser’, underdeveloped and undemocratic states because of our ‘superior’ access to these social media. And the worst part is, so many of today’s youth think they’re doing these countries a favour by tweeting and posting about their misfortunes, all the while maintaining this attitude of benevolent arrogance that belies hypocrisy and a certain contempt for the very states and people we claim to be helping.

We must remember the attitude of the coloniser to the colonised. The history and heritage of a people was disregarded as coloniser tried, through hegemonic cultural genocide, to ‘civilise’ another state and impose a ‘superior’ culture on them. We must be careful not to repeat history using 21st-century tools.

The fault of the colonisers is also our fault: we approach this ‘need for help’ with overzealous myopia. There is a chasm where there ought to be critical and serious thought. Like no other social network I know, Twitter has popularised the concept of following - sans frontieres, often sans mente. And the youth are often blindly following in their forefathers’ footsteps. They just mindlessly take whatever information is shoved their way from mainstream media and reproduce it without a thought - it sounds like a good cause - it’s a BRAINLESS decision.

And that brainlessness does not ever have a place in any serious sensitisation programme. People who are sensitised to an issue must, at least, THINK about it, must they not?

What Twitter often helps to create is a bubble of deception - a self-reinforcing one, no less! I can readily use the group of popular Jamaican tweeters whom I have often criticised for this self-involved, myopic syndrome on many previous occasions. The Internet is still a relatively new concept to some parts of the island. There are many people who don’t know how to manipulate a computer, much less log on to the Internet and harness its awesome networking power. But this group does not feature prominently on Twitter. They’re not there at all. And their absence is not felt.

We can so easily be led to believe that everybody else is hooked up and YouTubing/tweeting because this is a prevalent feature in our circle (or BUBBLE) of influence. This is what has happened to the Twitter-happy bubble bunch. They are compulsive, obsessive tweeters who think that anybody who’s not tweeting must be living under a rock. But no, there are many people who are not familiar with these technologies right here ON the rock. What we have is a concentration of a few urbanly located youth who forget (or, often, don’t care) that the rest of their country is sans technologia. They consider themselves to classy, Western, modern … tweeting about the ‘issues’, up-to-date with the REAL world, but totally oblivious to what is taking place right here in their own country under their very noses! They think they know, but they really don’t! And those pretenders are ANYTHING but sensitised. What they are is self-involved, proud, arrogant, shallow, brash and dismissive of anything or anyone that does not conform to their twitterised way of life.

And that’s what false sensitisation does. It gets you comfortably passive, makes you make a lot of useless noise because you think you know, because you’re deceived into believing you ARE the essence of online sensitisation. Social media has its place. But it must be used hand-in-hand with other, more tested and proven methods of information. A tweet cannot take the place of proper, solid research. A sidebar to click cannot replace tangible, decisive action.

Media has its place in development. But education is still essential to train, teach and truly sensitise people about how best to use the technology, about its limitations, advantages, disadvantages. Sensitisation goes beyond a click on an electronic device. It calls for real interest, real thought, and more importantly, REAL ACTION.

1 comment:

Keresa said...

Ruth, Ruth, Ruth. Well said. I've unfollowed a few people because of this "bubble" and it irked me every time I saw a tweet from them. You are so right. One of the realest blog posts I've read in a long time. Keep them coming! Love it!