This is a departure from my usual business prose and a look at some of the issues i’ve been going through recently.
The last 2 weeks have been intense. I have started engaging in much more risky behaviour and I don’t understand why. First there was my outburst of extreme atheism where I questioned God and his existence in the context of everything that is going on the region recently. Then there was a bout of feminism, in response to the perceived patriarchy I sensed around me. Then there was my blog post on a fitting I did at Victoria’s Secret to show once and for all why their fitting advice is wrong (something which nearly every lingerie store suffers), a blog which contained pictures of me in their various bras, and then there was the 3 hours I spent on a comment thread of some fanatical Zionists. Yes I have been going through some big changes in my perception of the world, and who I identify with and what is right and wrong. That’s part of my dual nationality, the length of time I have spent in the Arab world compared to the west, and my change from being an employee to starting my own business.
How and where do I express that as a millennial? Social networks of course. This is the place where you can easily and quickly find people who agree with you, who validate your point of view, and in some instances, actually disagree with you and call you out on your BS.
The internet was supposed to be the great democratizer. For cultures and markets where information was not “free” and there were citizens desperate to cast off the shackles of misinformation and who were all aware that the truth was out there, it was just a case of connecting to it, the internet was going to solve that problem. Only it didn’t. People who were fed state propaganda in traditional media spent most of their time looking at entertainment, music, films and pornography once they got connected. Not reading material that was going to make them more tolerant and accepting of other communities, because it was cheaper and quicker to chat with someone across the other side of the world on MSN instead of flying there for a 2 week holiday. “Why assume that Chinese Internet users will suddenly demand more political rights, rather than the Friends or Sex in the City lifestyles they observe on the Internet?” says Evgeny Morozov.
In fact the internet has polarized people more because it has allowed the rapid spreading and reinforcement of views and beliefs that many people already have. This can be advantageous ( in the case of raising funds for a humanitarian project) or disadvantageous (in the case of manufacturing consent )
I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of my Facebook friends have hidden me from their feeds because I do post a lot of intense thoughts. A contact of mine pointed out that I punch out at least 10 things per day and they’re not just pictures or memes. They’re long aggressive rants. My best friend Hind (a poet and filmmaker) says that I’m wasting my time on this platform - a lot of this strong energy and drive should be harnessed into a concrete thing that’s not so ephemeral. She says that because you naturally end up connecting to people like you, you end up preaching to the choir. No actual change is effected.
This got me thinking about what if I didn’t want to effect change? What if it was just a space for me to vent my frustrations in the relative privacy of on online space. I have no other outlet for it. As I discovered when developing content for Amourah (my ecommerce project) you write and write and it disappears and it disappears – that’s how the timeline works. No one is going to go scrolling through your timeline to see everything else you’ve written. You can’t even bookmark stuff you like. How many of us have sat there and thought, so and so was talking about something interesting the other day but I can’t find what she wrote?
Hind suggests that if you have a project that’s actually permanent like a film / book / publication / blog, this is information that’s concrete and that can be easily referenced and archived and people can go back to it time and again. This is infinitely better than a barrage of thoughts that quickly disappear into the ether.
There is a difference between people who share information and people who create information. That’s probably the greatest difference between our generation and the previous one.
Hind is currently making a film about the rise and fall of the PLO and her father’s journey as a Leader and Writer with the leftist factions of Fatah. She shares many of the same views as me but is transforming this energy into a film that can reach more people around the world and will be able to touch them in a more powerful way. A film with sounds, imagery and words has much more impact than words alone. And words which may disappear through the multitude of status updates.
She has very pointed views on advertising as a creative art form which she didn’t post on Facebook or Twitter (it would probably have taken 500 updates to get all her thoughts out) and she eschewed posting it on her website. It was published as an article in Campaign magazine, the advertising industry journal, where many of the people who CAN make a difference will be reading it.
Zena el Khalil is a cultural activist and artist. In 2006 Zena began a blog at the start of the Israeli invasion from her apartment in Beirut, beirutupdate.blogspot.com. It was a humanist personal account about its impact on her and the people around her. It quickly received international attention and was highly publicized on news portals such as CNN, the BBC, The Guardian, Spiegel Online. In May 2008, she was invited by the Nobel Peace Center to participate in a panel discussion on freedom of expression over the internet.
Soon after that, she wrote her memoir Beirut I love you, a successful book which has been translated into many languages, and is now making a film out of it. In 2012 she became a Ted Fellow
Nasri Atallah is another example. He is equally verbose and opinionated but channeled his observations into the Our Man in Beirut blog and then turned it into a book which was published and distributed in several countries.
For our generation, ,we have these new tools like Facebook and Twitter which allow the more rapid sharing of information and make it easier to connect but also these tools make the decay of information faster. We’re not writing books, we’re not writing films we’re not developing products like the previous generations. We not MAKING stuff, we’re just talking about it.
In the Arab world where there are restrictions and censorship and all sorts of hindrances, (there are still financial and social obstacles in creating art, film, poetry, finding spaces to perform) social networks have fooled us into thinking that we finally have an outlet in which to express ourselves. One of the ironies being that this medium too is being policed and has its own censorship issues. A combination of a history of not creating (where was our Industrial Revolution?) mixed with the rapid diffusion of this tool to connect (the internet) means we are still not catching up to the rest of the world in terms of making stuff that makes a difference. We’re certainly talking a lot more about it, but have women’s rights changed, have economic opportunities grown, have art and culture flourished? As Evgeny Morozov writes, “Regime change by text messaging may seem realistic in cyberspace, but no dictators have been toppled via Second Life”. Similarly the Twitter Revolution is rather a misnomer for what happened here in 2011.
I’m going to make this analogous to the way that investors and entrepreneurs come together. Just today I had a meeting with some very experienced and knowledgeable investors who have been very successful on multiple projects around the world, and yet when I told them I’m planning on building something new, that talks to women in a different way, that solves their problems like no one else has done, they seemed reticent to pursue anything that’s different from the norm. The norm being of course tried and tested ways to make a return on investment which is perfectly understandable. This is business after all, but I couldn’t help thinking, we are not going to achieve something we never have, unless we do something we’ve never done.
I could rant (more?!) all day about women and how we market products and services (or not) to them here and that we need a change, on both my blog and Facebook, but I’m trying to do something to change that and something that’s more concrete with my retail project. That’s the point thought, I didn’t have anything concrete to show the investors, I just had a plan. I didn’t have something tangible to back up what I was saying.
I keep getting distracted by the situation around me. As I sit there working out how to create a system which can take your measurements and translate that into any brand of bra across the world, I am faced with images and content regarding death, injustice, untruths and propaganda. What’s my immediate response? To go back to the social networks and create and share more information.
And instead of the time it would take to write a well thought out editorial, publish it, distribute it and so on, I can have an immediate release thanks to the instant publish and feedback and feelgood nature of social networks. I, no we, are impatient for the rush we get from doing this. But precisely as Hind says, because this quickly decays, we have to keep doing it. Its part of the addictive nature of the internet and how it’s designed.
Ultimately this means I waste time and don’t progress as much as I should. This is not a problem faced by many people but its something that I’m going through right now. Perhaps if I was back in the UK where the environment isn’t like here, I might not have been doing this project in the first place because there would be nothing I need to counter and change. The underlying problem wouldn’t be there to solve.
So in conclusion – maybe we need to make a bigger deal of people’s successes when they happen. Because it’s hard for us millenials. We are impatient. We need to feel like our patience and holding back has been worth it. We should celebrate people’s successes more, distribute them more, and we should party longer. We should encourage making not procrastinating. And I should probably spend less time on Facebook………