Friday, August 26, 2011

Social media generating "flash mobs" for wrong purposes...

There is a current dynamic playing out in both Great Britain and the U.S. of "flash mobs"wreaking havoc through violence in some cases and through "instant robberies" in others. The most recent, in New Jersey, saw a couple of teens walk into a 7-11 convenience store, to be followed by about two dozen more who, in less than a minutes, picked "stuff" off the shelves and left the store without paying for any of it.
Of course, police have a surveillance video, which they have now posted on YouTube, in the hope that the public will offer support in identifying the perpetrators. In Great Britain, after their several nights of violence at the hands of "flash mobs" in various cities, the Prime Minister has publicly mused about the option of shutting down the social media. To us, that seems like attempting to block the 200km/hr winds of hurricane Irene, currently making her way up the coast of North America- not feasible!
However, to concentrate on social media as the most significant culprit is to avoid having to fully confront the far deeper malaise facing the world: joblessness, homelessness, purposelessness and a clear lack of meaning (to borrow a familiar Viktor Frankl existential phrase).
The social media have played a significant role in the "Arab Spring---turning into an Arab year" and they will continue to present different conditions for everyone everywhere.
My wife and I were standing on an overpass on the 401 yesterday, waiting for the hearse and casket of Jack Layton to pass, on its way from Ottawa to City Hall in Toronto. Beside us, were a young couple, he holding a smart phone, surfing to find any media outlet that knew and were prepared to release the expected time of the arrival of the procession. And of course, some media outlets were cooperating.
Our little cadre of perhaps a dozen standing on the overpass in the middle of the afternoon rushhour were "connected" to the rest of the world through his smart phone, even to some extent 'guided' by the information to which he had access in the palm of his hand.
A little 'flash mob' was generated by the hope of paying last respects to a fallen leader whose cancer had taken him from us far too soon. And our 'flash mob', if someone wishes to call it that, generated shared reflections of the man, his story, his politics and his passing. We knew none of the participants; yet we spoke easily with several and found "connection" (that overworked and often trite word) with a few.
Our motive was much different from the motives of the ravaging 'flash mobs' currently known to have "hit" at least 100+ retail outlets in the last month across the U.S., according to a recent episode of CBS' 60 Minutes.
The emptiness of the world's youth, set against the extremely dedicated commitment of those, for example pursuing a goal of competing in the next Olympics, or volunteering to serve in a Third World country where poverty, disease, hunger and hopelessness reign, is creating tectonic plates of different demographics among the same age group. And those plates never speak to one another, no matter how many social media devices they have. Just as, for the most part, those complaining about the state funeral for Jack Layton never speak to those who support the decision.
Those who advocate "for life" rarely, if ever, speak to those who advocate for a "woman's right to choose". Those who advocate for increased prison sentences rarely, if ever speak to those who examine the evidence and argue for rehabilitation and treatment of criminals, except through media outlets such as newspapers, blogs or radio phone-in shows.
Let's together try to look behind the causes of why young people are looting, rampaging, "flash-mobbing" and attempt to bring to them options of which both they and the rest of society can be proud, so that those "social media" networks can and do serve the best and highest ideals rather than become another arrow in the quivver of the malcontents, the underbelly of all our societies.

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