Di­vi­sive mon­sters of so­cial media threaten the bet­ter world our chil­dren want to cre­ate

Irish Independent - Farming - - RURAL LIVING - Jim O’Brien

As a younger, sin­gle man I re­mem­ber tak­ing a car­load of my neph­ews and nieces to the cin­ema to see the orig­i­nal Juras­sic Park. In the course of the film I was treated to a graphic ex­am­ple of how chil­dren and adults view the world differentl­y.

The story is set in a theme park on a fic­tional is­land owned by mul­ti­mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man John Ham­mond, who had hired a team of ge­netic sci­en­tists to ge­net­i­cally re-en­gi­neer and re-cre­ate di­nosaurs.

According to the sto­ry­line, bad guys cause the elec­tric power on the is­land to fail, neu­tral­is­ing the se­cu­rity and leav­ing a group of vis­i­tors and Ham­mond’s grand­chil­dren at the mercy of these huge and vi­cious crea­tures.

In the course of the movie an un­for­tu­nate man takes refuge in a por­ta­ble toi­let. A ram­pag­ing, car­niv­o­rous tyran­nosaurus rex comes upon the flimsy struc­ture, smashes it open and gob­bles down the poor man as he sits on the loo. I was hor­ri­fied by this but the chil­dren screamed with laughter think­ing it was hi­lar­i­ous.

In another scene a group of the sur­vivors were perched high up on a tree ad­mir­ing a herd of long-necked her­bi­vores graz­ing hap­pily on a plain be­low. One of the gi­ant crea­tures ap­proached the tree and was eating its way up through the leaves when it came face to face with the hu­mans. Their scent caused it to sneeze on them, and while I thought this was hi­lar­i­ous, my young neph­ews and nieces were dis­gusted and hor­ri­fied.

There has al­ways been a gen­er­a­tion gap in the way the world is ex­pe­ri­enced. Pri­or­i­ties and pre­oc­cu­pa­tions vary according to all age-groups. One group’s ver­sion of en­ter­tain­ment is another’s night­mare.

Among teenagers and young adults, the loss of sum­mer en­ter­tain­ment in the form of can­celled mu­sic fes­ti­vals and gigs this year has been one of the ma­jor so­cial costs as­so­ci­ated with the Covid pan­demic. In pre­vi­ous years, like many par­ents, my list of sum­mer tasks in­cluded col­lect­ing ex­hausted young­sters from these events and I would al­ways mar­vel at how they man­aged to stay sane in the midst of the mud and the de­bris.

Hope­fully that will be as close to the ex­pe­ri­ence of trench war­fare they are ever likely to get.

Driv­ing them away from these lat­ter-day Wood­stocks they’d fill the car with sat­u­rated clothes and su­perla­tives de­scrib­ing the event: ‘best ever’ ‘bril­liant craic’, ‘su­perb’. Ad­jec­tives like ‘hor­rific’ would come to mind for me.

Mov­ing into the late teens and 20s, com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the next gen­er­a­tion in­volves less rolling of the eyes at Dad’s di­nosaur mo­ments and more di­rect chal­leng­ing of ac­cepted wis­dom. Dur­ing al­most ev­ery fam­ily con­ver­sa­tion I find my mind be­ing stretched, my horizon lifted and my at­ti­tudes chal­lenged in a com­bi­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion, ad­mo­ni­tion and mis­chievous en­trap­ment.

While I like to re­gard my­self as an open, rea­son­ably civilised mod­ern man, I am con­stantly sur­prised at the in­grained and sub­con­scious nature of some of my prej­u­dices and how my young­sters jolt me out of them. When it comes to racism, sex­ual orientatio­n, gen­der is­sues, gen­der flu­id­ity and cli­mate change, they are con­stantly haul­ing me out of the con­fined re­al­ity that moulded my gen­er­a­tion and open­ing me up


Un­til the so­cial media gi­ants’ power is checked they will stalk the earth like re-in­car­na­tions of Juras­sic Park’s tyran­nosaurus rex to a world view that is far more spa­cious and be­nign.

Lis­ten­ing to them, I have great hopes for the kind of world they will cre­ate and I’m tempted to bask in the glow of their pos­si­bil­i­ties. But, when I look around at what’s hap­pen­ing on the global stage I fear for them, and for all of us.

The emerg­ing re­al­ity is far from be­nign. From the van­tage point of un­reg­u­lated so­cial media plat­forms, the resur­gence of nar­row, di­vi­sive and su­prem­a­cist forces is threat­en­ing the very no­tion of lib­eral democ­racy.

The era of the strong­man leader has made an un­wel­come return in the US, Rus­sia, Turkey, China, In­dia and closer to home in Poland and Hun­gary. Even in Lon­don a reclu­sive strong­man has taken up res­i­dence in Boris John­son’s base­ment.

I am afraid for the next gen­er­a­tion that we could be could be head­ing back to­wards the vi­cious chaos of a Juras­sic Park iron­i­cally, a jour­ney ex­pe­dited by tech­nol­ogy gi­ants who be­lieve them­selves to be the driv­ers of global progress.

The CEOs of the big four of these re­cently came be­fore the US Congress in an an­titrust hear­ing where they fended off ques­tions about their mo­nop­o­lis­ing and anti-com­pet­i­tive prac­tices. These mon­ster com­pa­nies have fa­cil­i­tated the coars­en­ing of pub­lic dis­course and give world­wide ex­po­sure to ex­clu­sion, pho­bia and hate.

Un­til their power is checked they will stalk the earth like re-in­car­na­tions of the tyran­nosaurus rex, and there will be no hid­ing place, not even in the loo.

The resur­gence of nar­row, di­vi­sive and su­prem­a­cist forces is threat­en­ing the very no­tion of lib­eral democ­racy

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