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Offline in Egypt, Apathetic in America

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I work in DSL technical support for an internet service provider that serves roughly half the U.S. From time to time we experience in specific areas something we refer to as an internet outage. Internet outages happen when an area’s internet connectivity, typically for some unforeseen reason, is experiencing technical problems. A typical outage lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to a maximum of around 12 hours. Customers are regularly livid when they hear that they could be without internet for up to half a day. They are more then willing to let me know why they are so upset. Sometimes work, sometimes school, and most of the time they won’t have entertainment for the night; they’ll have to just go to bed—god forbid they actually read a book or talk to their friends.

My customers get upset when a private internet service provider loses connectivity in their area completely by accident. Imagine how they would feel if their government turned off their internet on purpose as a way to limit their rights. This is precisely what is happening in Egypt right now.

Many Egyptians have been upset about the 30-year-reign of their president, Hosni Mubarak.  Unhappy with his oppressive government, they have been actively protesting it since this past Tuesday. The internet blackout is an attempt to extinguish at least some of the ammo social media provides the activists. But this is bigger than too many people “attending” a political rally, or an overly large tweet-up in the town square; these people are talking revolution. There seems to be at least some intention of overthrowing their government.

Time.com specified that what the Egyptian government did, to be precise, was limit their citizens’ internet usage to local servers. Basically, this means any website hosted outside their borders was off-limits. This obviously means all the social media juggernauts; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others, were affected by the shutdown. This leads me to believe that the speculation that the primary reason for this was to limit the effect social media sites have on the protests is correct.

Here in the United States, it seems outrageous to think about the government shutting off our internet. But take a second and think about how a lack of connectivity for a few days would really affect your life. Seriously think about how you spend your time online. Sure, you’d have to actually talk to people over the phone a little more, and maybe (*gasp*) interact with them face-to-face, but if we’re being honest here, I’m guessing most of what you’d miss would be a lot of Netflix, Farmville, and Ke$ha videos. Admittedly, the idea of not being able to do those things because your government restricted you is a little cringe-worthy, but it really does make you question our generation’s influence on, well, anything that truly matters.

Now I’d like us to take a moment to think just how many times in the past couple of years you clicked “maybe attending” for a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or Tea Party rally, when you honestly had no true intention of going. How many times did you read that article about how you should send an email to your state’s senator to get your voice heard about whatever decision they were making at the time, but it was too much work to click the link and slightly edit the already typed up response to fit the way you personally feel.

As an American citizen and a member of Generation Y who is witnessing an oppressive government stripping its citizens of one of the few rights they had, I’ve gotta say, this whole “I’m a hipster and don’t really care about anything” shtick is getting really old. There comes a time when you have to care about the world around you. You have to put down your Moleskin notebook and do something.

I’m not saying we should drop everything we’re doing to have an Egyptian-sized protest in the streets, but we could actually watch the State of the Union Address when it’s on. It really doesn’t take that much effort to go to a rally at least once or twice a year and actually participate. It doesn’t even have to be a rally that is innately political; attend a Pride parade, go door knocking with your church, or talk to the union strikers to find out what it’s actually about. Most important, care about the other people surrounding you. Don’t be afraid to stay informed and actually make informed decisions when you vote.

We’re a generation that has been told many times we could be whatever we wanted to be. Let’s want to be a generation that makes a difference.

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About Terry Bartley

  • Kathy Jones

    Terry, very interesting and astute essay. I just finished writing something about the Egyptian protests for a political theory blog I maintain. The political significance of the internet is impressive in these situations. You are right: many of us in the U.S. have become complacent politically speaking. And we have so many more means to become active, even in the face of economic and social obstacles.