When reflecting on the major social trends that influenced 2015 we see several key trends; fear, equality, and mobility. Fear was a social trend that was particularly dominate due to the string of major tragedies that rocked the world.
With fear being such an emphasis in media we asked ourselves the following questions: What is the implications of a fear based society? Are these fears justified? Is the connectivity to everything skewing our world view? How can technology assist in the face of tragedy? Is it making a difference?
The Syrian refugee crisis has been one of the most significant issues this year, as over 4 million people have fled to neighboring countries in the Middle East or to Europe as a result of the Syrian Civil War. Not only has the violence killed hundreds of thousands, it has destroyed the country’s economy, made children more vulnerable to exploitation, and displaced more than 6 million people from their homes. The media calls it the single worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.
Knowing these facts, it is natural to question whether social media and technology are really effective in the face of such a rampant dilemma. How do hashtags or Twitter campaigns make a difference to those refugees, to the children, or to the Syrian economy? Many outspoken media critics argue that they can’t - that they do not generate change.
But in this year we’ve seen that one major benefit of advancing technology and social media is the rise of instant communication and media correspondence. With news apps, free international messaging, and instant media notifications to our devices, we’re now at the forefront of digesting information at the same time our political leaders do. Not only does this heightened communication allow us to be more informed citizens, it prompts widespread discussion of major international issues and motivates us to mobilize action on a wider scale.
While posting hashtags in response to a devastating earthquake or a terrorist attack may seem trivial, it encourages people to engage with the matter rather than being passive. Especially if we consider that today’s generation of American teenagers and young adults have grown up in an era after the major world wars, this exposure and recognition of conflict pushes us to think beyond the boundaries of our own country and to apply technology in creating progressive solutions.
In October 2015, a Techfugees Conference was held in London for the first time, where engineers, entrepreneurs, designers, and NGO members came together to discuss ideas for applying technology to aid refugees. They recognized that many of the fleeing Syrians had relied on smartphones and GPS navigators to find safe passage and sought to devise of additional technology-based relief for those in need. Likewise, Internet-based hacker group Anonymous has recently launched initiatives against terror groups like ISIS and the KKK by leaking web data and infiltrating online communications to disrupt their work. Though these type of unsanctioned efforts are controversial due to questions of legality, they are evidence of increasingly democratized social action as a result of networked communication on the Internet.
Moving into 2016, we look forward to seeing how technology will continue to influence our worldview unlike ever before. At the same we must be cautious. Fear can be a huge manipulator and must be balanced with alternative perspectives. We are living in an era where anyone can be a self-proclaimed expert on the Internet making it more important than ever to check sources and synthesize our own perspectives. Let’s hope that our increased connectivity will increase more understanding between each other and aid us in times of turmoil.
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