There are things that often seem too trivial to be taken seriously, yet can still have a huge impact on an entire nation. Take social media, for example. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes the entire purpose of Facebook is to simply “connect people”. It sounds very optimistic, harmless and positive. It certainly seems like it does not need to capture the attention of government officials, policymakers, or any group or individual that is working to ‘develop’ a nation, yet how far could this be true?
Firstly, Facebook definitely, and most evidently, was not created solely to “connect people”. The reality is far from that. It is a business that treats its users as a product to sell to advertisers, to news agencies, and to other forms of entertainment. And just like other businesses, the more more money it accumulates and the more concentrated of ownership it becomes, the more it starts to deviate from influencing society positively.
In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman wrote a book titled ‘Manufacturing Consent’ to explain the negative effects of mass media in the United States. They coined the term ‘propaganda model’ to explain how the American public are treated as ‘consumers’ by those large news outlets like CNN and Fox News due to the large concentration of wealth of big businesses in America, and as such, they only focus on gaining profit rather than producing quality news.
Today, this is not very far from explaining Facebook and other social media sites. Profit is a huge obsession for these outlets, and so inevitably, the user will always be treated as a consumer in some kind of way. Whether it is consuming false news, products, propaganda or just mere entertainment, there is no real value coming out of it, because at the end of the day, your role is simply one thing: a consumer.
For developing countries like Egypt, the word ‘consumer’ is a serious issue. To be labelled as a ‘consumer’ nation is akin to saying that you produce no value to the global economy – no products, no knowledge, and no real growth or development. You merely consume what other nations provide for you. It turns it into a passive, rather than an active, part of the world, and the more it does, the more the country gets trapped into a never-ending cycle of dependency and poverty.
Yet this is exactly what the youth of Egypt are turning into. The more one is treated to perform a certain role, the more they actually embody that role. As the World Youth Forum commences in Egypt next month, which is part of the government’s plan to engage the youth and allow them to recommend initiatives, there needs to be more consideration given to the role of social media in impacting the productivity and activity of youth today.
According to the Facebook Q3 2017 report, 37 million people in Egypt access Facebook every month and over 22 million access it every day, with the largest age group for usage is 18-34.
Instagram and Twitter are also behind, with 1.7 million active on Twitter (Arab Social Media Report 2017) and 2.7 million on Instagram ([email protected]). This is a large number, considering that the youth in Egypt now represent 20.2 million people, according to a 2018 report by Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
According to a short online survey which 50 young people between 18-24 in Egypt took, Egyptian Streets found that 90% said that they found social media to have a negative affect on their productivity and 85% saw that it also impacted their psychological health.
“Social media just absorbs all my concentration and energy,” one commented, “and it wastes a lot of time because you’re not doing anything valuable, you could’ve used that time to do other beneficial things.”
In the famous article in the Atlantic by technology writer Nicholas Carr ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?‘, Carr notes that the internet plays a huge role in influencing people’s process of thought.
“I’m not thinking the way I used to think,” he wrote, “immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy…Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
The idea of feeling ‘fake’, ‘isolated’ or ‘alienated’ from the real world was also a common response.
“It promotes an unrealistic standard of living that makes the users feel bad about their lives, and so you start to feel insecure and never intend to do anything productive because of it, which causes a lot of depression and anxiety,” another expressed.
A report by #StateofMind in 2017, which was based on a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, concluded that all social media platforms, particularly Instagram, were associating with feelings of depression, anxiety and the “fear of missing out”
Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health Shirley Cramer pointed out that, “social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.”
This feeling of alienation was once used by Karl Marx to explain the exploitation of workers in Britain in the 19th century in his ‘Communist Manifesto’. Since the capitalists owned everything, and the workers merely purchase the product they initially produced, the worker began to feel ‘alien’ or ‘foreign’ from these products, and instead, felt as an instrument used by the capitalist.
“In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and, therefore, enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also, when looking at the object, I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses, and, hence, a power beyond all doubt,” he wrote.
The key words are power and individuality. When one produces, one attains their own individuality and thus gains power over their personality and their own life. Yet currently, the youth are being shaped into consumers, and the power they were supposed to have for themselves is instead transferred to a small number of people that do little for society.
It is time for this power to return back to them, and to turn consumerism into productivity, so that there can be true change in the future of Egypt.