“He alone who owns the youth, gains the future.” -Adoph Hitler
BERLIN – So Hitler was called to lurk among us. And never showed. Not even in Germany.
This regarding Kony 2012, the strange and shrinking campaign that in its posters — now hung virtually nowhere — features Hitler idling behind warlord Joseph Kony and Osama bin Laden.
The square-moustached megalomaniac has made a bigger splash online. On YouTube, an impersonator of the führer is enraged over the world’s apparent inaction against Kony. “Get my laptop,” he tells his generals, with English subtitles, in this satirical video with a million views.
Hitler is also invoked in Kony’s now publicized but old prediction that he will someday die like Hitler, with some mystery.
Then there’s the online attention given to Hitler’s birthday, April 20, the only date Kony 2012 organizers could imagine for their recently failed Cover the Night campaign.
Real-life Germans have been extra cool to this Bizarro Parallel World. I’ve discovered no public debate, or posters, or even knowledge of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Kony among cab drivers while I’ve been here in Berlin with my family, visiting my aunt while en route from Uganda to Hamilton.
And this, my native city, is a good place to observe. Indeed, having lived in the dark era when young Germans were put into in Hitler Jugend, that is Hitler Youth, my Tante Eva could tell you what the real Hitler believed: that to capture Germany’s youth was to capture its soul. “Make the lie big,” Hitler once said. “Make it simple. Keep saying it. And eventually they’ll believe it.”
What would Hitler say, though, about global debates formed not by youth who are hard as steel, as he wanted, but by the shallow political power of young people who are often uninformed, misinformed or otherwise preoccupied with hundreds of “friends” they’ve never met?
Indeed, the naive beat of Kony 2012 was increasingly driven by younger and younger fans: keep it simple, press a button, save the world.
Conversely, in Uganda it was aging leaders, not networked youth, who first responded to Kony 2012. “Kony’s long gone. Don’t remind us of what we want to forget,” they said. So Kony 2012 died even faster there, a failed opportunity to debate not Kony, but social justice and political transparency in Uganda.
This is all to say that any wimpy end of the mighty Stop Kony movement — remember 100 million views over six days in March? — should not end the tremendously important debate on how technology can steal our ability to think critically.
This is what Neil Postman said when he gave a well-known speech at the German Informatics Society in Stuttgart. Cultures swimming in too much information can lose their marbles.
Author of Amusing Ourselves to Death (Penguin, $16.50), a prophetic look at these issues before anyone imagined joining the words “face” and “book,” Postman warned us about disinformation — not totally false information, but misleading material that’s irrelevant, fragmented and superficial. It gives the illusion we know something, when, in fact, we know less and less.
No, humanity’s problems can’t be solved with more information, but rather by making better connections with information that’s relevant. This is the pushback that this generation needs to give.
Because today it’s Kony 2012, a blip to smile about and say, “Ah, now we know better.” But tomorrow it will be something else. And tomorrow, what might the larger consequences be for having this water, water everywhere with nothing to drink?
This isn’t to say that social media can’t help illuminate a dark world. It can. But where there’s light, there’s shadow.
Let’s face it: Kony 2012 has proved in striking fashion that social media can and will create that illusionary Bizarro World.
When I was a child, my tante would send gifts, Berlin to Canada, with beautiful handwritten notes. In her old age, she has continued that loving practice with my own children.
No, she has never sent a word over the Internet. I suspect she realizes that it wouldn’t offer much intimacy. And isn’t this, in the end, the sort of connection that we all need? And want?