Does the Internet make us Global Citizens?

by Bogdan Pammer

The United Nations Alliance of Civilisations regards

2) Media pluralism and diversity of media content and their contribution to fostering public debate, democracy and awareness of diverse opinions;

as one of the burning topics for our globe and humanity in 2013 and beyond. Leaders from all around the globe including 150 youth leaders will join together in February 2013 in Vienna to discuss and explore this issue.

One interesting aspect of this array of themes is, whether the internet or the digitalization of our communication makes us more active citizens? How will the digital natives or digital citizens transform democracy? Is the digital citizen a global citizen?

All questions very relevant for us as young activist who seek to become global citizens and build a responsible culture of peace, that goes beyond borders. Also the NYT picked up this issue up in its Global Agenda Series.

Serge Schmemann moderates an interesting discussion between media experts, who try to evaluate impact increased digitalization has on our lives and therefore also on politics.

Susan Greenfield expresses her concerns not only about the time spent in from of screens, but also the fundamentally different role new media claims in our lives:

What concerns me is that the current technologies have been converted from being means to being ends. Instead of complementing or supplementing or enriching life in three dimensions, an alternative life in just two dimensions — stimulating only hearing and vision — seems to have become an end in and of itself. 

Maria Popova does not share Greenflield’s concerns but talks about a “chronology bias” that is inherent to a lot of social media. The newest information appears as the most relevant.

Evgeny Morozov emphasizes that the internet and the social media we are using and used to today was essentially shaped by “a political economy and various market conditions.” Facebook and co make its users (aka us) like, view and post stuff in order to learn about them and increase its advertising value. Depth and informed decisions are not in their interest per se.

This confronts us with a question: Does social media the illusion of political activism might be created. Are we politically active and citizens contributing substantially to the development of our community and society just by posting items through social media channels?

Harald Katzmair and Harald Mahrer in their book “Die Formel der Macht” (“The Formular of Power”) emphasized the point, that social networks often leave an illusion of power, since those people utilizing social those networks do not necessarily have critical resources necessary to turn their “circles” and “friends” into influence.

It is obvious that an increased amount of time spent in front of screens will not necessarily help people to learn to go beyond the boarders and boxes we live in. Those screens might even tempt us to rather stay in our zone of comfort, than step out of it. Having now the possibility to check my e-mails in the underground I am personally confronted with a different (virtual) reality of communication.  (1) This new reality of social media makes it even more obvious that claiming our “Subjectivity” over the media we consume and the thoughts we entertain.

(2) As young people with the fire of our conscience burning about the wrongs in society and desiring to make a difference it is important to reflect on what are our resources for creating an impact. Human Resource managers and Facebook discover our skills and personal data as powerful resources. We have our votes, but the choice between two or three parties we don’t agree with might not satisfy us as citizens, who strive to be active and responsible. 

How can we as young people claim our resources and “Subjectivity” in accordance to our conscience? How can this more then just words? What do you think?

Our event today might find some answers.


One thought on “Does the Internet make us Global Citizens?

  1. By Laetitia Sengseis

    Democracy in the media is a rather hot topic, not only when it is restricted through government, but also when citizens share their radical ideas. As discussed in the short article the first question concerns whether citizens can participate more actively in the democratic process throught the new means of communication or whether they rest in their comfort zones, recreating a world of boundaries and boxes online. As mentioned, especially young people want to make a difference in this world, taking part in shaping society and wanting to be heard. However, there’s a lack of consensus on what the wrongs of our societies today are. Some think that poverty, unequal distribution, racism and so on should be fought against, others see migration, Islamization and rising demands of refugees as the evil in our daily lives. It is shocking to see how those opinions can spread so quickly and have influence on others. Some of them like the English Defence League use the streets as their tool of communication, peacefully protesting against “militant” Islam. Others, like the Bloc Idenitaire, a french nationalist group whose ideas are spreading more and more around other countries in Europe, use the tool of youtube to communicate their objection against Islam. Media can be used in one way or the other, there’s no restriction on what ideas can be spread within the online community. Even though ORF’s “Bildungsauftrag” is sometimes inexistent, at least awareness is there that media should have one. Democracy is an invaluable means, but it works only if citizens learn how to make use of it in a way that it contributes to the wellbeing of the greater community. Let’s not forget, media is a tool, not the end. What happens online is a representation of what goes on in our society. It is difficult to spread good ideas already, but it happens. TED Talks is a great example, inspiration by great minds. However, with the new media, people select much more what ideas they want to expose themselves to. It is therefore rather unlikely to reach people with extremist ideas through media in order to educate them in reflecting their ideologies. Democracy allows freedom of expression, but with freedoms always comes responsibility.

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