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Youth and technology

Arab societies should do more to allow young people to express themselves on social media and through the new technologies, writes

Ahmed Abdel-Tawwab , Wednesday 1 Aug 2018

There have been major developments in technology in recent years, and the use of the new technologies is no longer limited to specialists but has become available to most people regardless of their skills or level of education.

The new ease of dealing with the new technologies including modern means of communication means that no one today can live without a mobile phone and without using the Internet. Whether we like it or not, we are forced to use the new technologies.

The fact that these new technologies are in the hands of young people has led many specialists to study the ways the younger generation has been affected by them, either negatively or positively, with some voices warning of the danger of the new technologies changing young people’s behaviour or leading them to be influenced in negative ways by ideas coming from abroad that are inconsistent with our societies and creating a gap between young people and their own communities.

Such concerns have led to calls to impose some kind of control over the new technologies to avoid such negative effects on young people, even as others believe that the era of censorship has passed and instead we should be looking for ways to help young people to gain the maximum benefits from the technological revolution and to make them into future contributors to it.

The new technologies have provided young people with opportunities to learn and to acquire skills that are not otherwise available, and they have benefited enormously from the new possibilities that these offer for communicating with each other.

Yet, many young people in our societies have not been nurtured on technology, and the culture that has come with it may not be commensurate with the requirements of society.

As a result, there have been pressures to employ a security approach in meeting the negative aspects of the new technologies, notably by closing some websites and blocking others.

Egyptian society does not differ from other consumer societies in its passion for everything new, and this has been reflected in the media and satellite TV channels that focus on the latest products and the latest technologies that go with them.

We have seen the development of a digital divide between the younger generations, with their passion for everything new, and the older generations who may be more conservative.

It is this gap between the younger generations and their parents, and between the younger generations and the country’s decision-makers, that makes the security response to the problems thrown up by the new technologies so incomprehensible to young people.

Children ask their parents how they can live without using the Internet, and their parents may not understand how to use a computer or see its positive value for young people.

Today’s fervour over the new technologies is not only an Egyptian phenomenon, but is also an Arab one, though perhaps when Arab young people are compared to those in Europe, for example, our societies are less directly threatened by the downsides of technology.

While some studies have found that some Arab young people spend between four and six hours on the Internet each day, this can easily rise to 10 or even 16 for some European young people, effectively making them addicted to it.

Nevertheless, we too are confronted by the question of how to ensure that our young people use the new technologies in the most positive way for their future health and well-being.

Today’s young people have used the new technologies to reach out to the outside world beyond the framework of the two institutions of school and family that have traditionally guided their conduct.

Many young people are supervised in the use of the new technologies by their families, but some are not, and it is undoubtedly the case that families in general need to be more vigilant in supervising the uses made of the new technologies by young people in order to ensure that they are used in the right way and within a positive framework.

Each generation is different from its predecessors, and each generation’s technology is also different from that used by previous generations.

Some have said that today there is an absence of the influence of the family and the school over young people, and that it is precisely the new technologies that have given young people their strength and self-confidence.

The new social media allow them to express their ideas and feelings in ways that our society may not otherwise allow, and we should entertain the idea that perhaps it is a defect of our Arab societies that they generally do not allow young people to express themselves in such a generous way.

The new social media have provided a space for young people to express their thoughts, and they may have also provided an important safety valve for young people to work through some of the challenges confronting them, notably family changes resulting either from economic and social problems or from the separation of parents.

Moreover, no school or university today lacks websites or Facebook pages. The Ministry of Education is also planning to publish curricula on its website, and students will have access to these through the Internet.

In general, it is important to prepare young people to use the Internet and other new technologies from the primary stage and not just at the university level.

One of the most positive aspects that the new technologies have brought to the younger generation is that they have ended the disconnect between young people and reading.

It is often said that Arab young people do not read enough books or newspapers, and here the new technologies have helped to make up for this deficit by allowing books and newspapers to be read electronically online.

Nevertheless, it is still important to emphasise the role of the family and the school in empowering young people to use the new technologies.

Family supervision can open a generational dialogue on technological issues between parents and children, teach young people the ethics of technology use, and encourage electronic literacy through training sessions for all generations, including adults, to ensure that people in general as well as young people interact in the right way with the new technologies.

The writer teaches in the Faculty of Arts at Menoufiya University and is a former visiting professor at Wake Forest University in the US.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Youth and technology

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