Former British prime minister Gordon Brown once advised, “Take … what modern technology is capable of: the power of our moral sense allied to the power of communication and our ability to organize internationally.” He further explained that he was of the opinion that such technology “gives us the first opportunity as a community to fundamentally change the world.”
On the other hand, Thomas Sowell — who is the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution — expressed his belief that “The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite.” Both of these men are correct, especially since the greatest challenge facing Generation Y is knowing how to use technology to ‘fundamentally change the world’ without losing its ‘intellectual complexity.’
Born into an era that abounds with technological advancements, the people of Generation Y must learn to balance pleasure with purpose where technology is involved — in today’s age, that is nearly everywhere. Understandably, people appreciate technology for its entertainment value and its ease of use. Yet, the problem occurs when people utilize technology purely for these two aforementioned qualities and forget the true reasons for such advancements. While enjoying the effortlessness with which they can communicate with their friends and family — through social media sites, electronic mail, and cellular devices — the people of Generation Y need to recognize the possibilities that accompany such easy, widespread contact.
Take, for example, the Egyptian revolution that began on June 8, 2010, with “a photograph of a bloodied and disfigured face” that Wael Ghonim found on Facebook (Vargas). Ghonim discovered that this pitifully mutilated face was that of Khaled Mohamed Said, a young man “who had been beaten to death by the Egyptian police” (Vargas). Using the same social media site that had informed him of the injustice inflicted upon Said, Ghonim “created a Facebook page,” which he titled “‘Kullena Khaled Said’” or “‘We Are All Khaled Said’” (Vargas). In just two minutes, “300 people had joined [Ghonim’s page],” and “three months later, that number had grown to more than 250,000” (Vargas). But, Ghonim did not simply rely on his Facebook page to gain support; rather, Ghonim utilized “printed fliers and mass text messaging” in addition to the social media site, for he knew “‘reaching working-class Egyptians was not going to happen through the Internet and Facebook’” (Vargas).
The result of this sweeping communication was a uniting of “workers, human rights activists, government employees and others who had grown tired of the regime’s policies” in “a series of ‘Silent Stands’ that culminated in a massive and historic rally at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo” (Vargas). With these protests, this unified group brought about “the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of the ruling National Democratic Party” (Vargas).
Now, the challenge for those born into Generation Y is to follow the meritorious example of Wael Ghonim, a man who used the technological advancements of the Internet, Facebook, and text messaging to help unite the Egyptian people, inspire change, and better his society. Still, Ghonim did not entirely depend on technology to spread his message, for he knew he could not communicate with all possible supporters through such means. So, Ghonim created paper fliers that even those without computers and cellular devices could access. Like Ghonim, the people of Generation Y must remember that technology is not available to everyone.
Admittedly, as an American who has grown up during a time when advancements in technology are constantly occurring, it can be difficult to imagine a life without the modern conveniences of the Internet or cell phones. It can be even more of a challenge to appreciate the indulgences technology provides with the simple press of a button or flip of a switch. Kelvin Doe, a Generation Y teenager from Sierra Leone, is a powerful reminder to those of his generation who may take technology for granted: “[Doe] literally goes into trash cans, finds broken electronic parts from the garbage and makes stuff on his own” (Walsh). Using his various findings and creative reasoning, Doe “built a radio station … and constructed a battery to help manage blackouts in his village, ”but his inventions will not end there; this inspired and innovative young man “plans to build a windmill to produce electricity” (Walsh). Despite the fact that he has few resources readily available to him and that technology — excepting his own technological creations — is nearly nonexistent in his village, Doe is improving his society with his inventiveness just as Ghonim did through his use of technology.
Remembering the fine examples of Wael Ghonim and Kelvin Doe is the first step Generation Y should take in overcoming the challenges presented by technology. Ghonim’s experience illustrates the influence of mass communication and demonstrates the purpose with which technology should be used, for, beginning with a Facebook page, he inspired the Egyptian people to unite and fight for justice. Doe, on the other hand, has little besides the technology he himself invents, thus reminding others born into Generation Y to be grateful for the modern conveniences they possess. Yet, both of these men’s stories remind the people of Generation Y that they can “fundamentally change the world” (Brown) without losing “intellectual complexity” (Sowell) as long as they preserve their own creativity and knowledge, denying technology the opportunity to consume their minds.
As a means of achieving this end myself, I intend to go one day a week without some form of technology that I would otherwise use everyday — be it the computer, my cell phone, or television. With these open intervals of time, I will create and learn, thereby deepening my own ‘intellectual complexity.’