A Global Utopia? An Introduction about Social Media Slacktivists

Chances are, this article is about you.

In 1962, due to the invention of the satellite, Marshall McLuhan introduced the idea of a global village: the idea that everyone in the world is brought together by a sense of connectedness. Suddenly, corresponding with people that seem to be worlds away became infinitely easier.

Gone were the days of letter writing as the primary option of keeping in touch, now that there are other sources that bring instant communication. The world became smaller, and people fell under the impression that since everyone lived in the same blue marble, the satellite image that was taken of the planet Earth, we all were members of the same global village.

“‘Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening.” — Marshall McLuhan

This “global village” has been further refined since the idea was conceived. With today’s technology, global events are known across the world in seconds and with the invention of social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram, people can feel closer to physically distant people with the click of a like button.

There are no negative aspects of this concept, since the global village was envisioned as a utopia. However, Michael Cohen, a UC Berkeley professor who currently teaches the California Countercultures class, brought up some thought-provoking points during one of his lectures.

Has anyone ever considered the source of the world-famous, most reproduced image, The Blue Marble? America came up with the technology to take this picture with the intention to send soldiers on the moon and to utilize satellites not for the sole purpose of making people feel close to each other and create a delusional mass of people that think the world is perfect and everyone should come together in a “Kumbaya” fashion because we all live on the same planet, but for possibility of mass destruction in case any other country crosses the United States.

As Professor Cohen puts it, “this idea of wholeness was brought to us by the military industrial complex.” This gives us a false sense of peace and security, we don’t have to carry the burden of knowing about the slew of dead bodies that derived from missiles and drone strikes, made possible by the invention of satellite technology.

It doesn’t stop there. This global village mentality further progresses into our current world of social media. Joel Penney, professor in the school of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, discusses the topic of symbolic activism in today’s age of new media. He came up with the term, “slacktivism,” the result of people who digitally share social and political issues through their social media networks instead of physically going and performing actions that will fix these issues.

Slacktivism: Putting a rainbow overlay on your Facebook profile picture to show you’re an ally while taking a bite of your Chick-fil-A sandwich.

Penney claims that “these symbolic actions may be ineffective in creating political change by way of influencing public opinion, [and] furthermore that it may detract from more traditional forms of organized political action such as lobbying and face-to-face protesting by providing an easy and self-satisfying alternative.” Essentially, although good intentions are present, the global village may be actually detrimental to any cause that villagers choose to support.

In order to actually make a difference, people who believe in the global village need to pop the idealistic utopian bubble they’ve sealed themselves in and face reality.