It is Bulldog Days once again, which means that thousands of prefrosh will flock to the Lanman Center this afternoon for the semi-annual extracurricular bazaar. Expect lots of flyers, free candy, and sign-up sheets. I admit that I will be among the crowd, losing my own voice as I make a sales pitch for the Yale Public Health Coalition.
With hundreds of student organizations at Yale, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Indeed, when I first came here, I was warned by upperclassmen not to sign up for too many activities in order to avoid a deluge of e-mails from all the list-servs. Now that I’m a senior, however, I’d like to offer some different advice.
Although doing every activity at Yale is impossible and taking too many flyers probably isn’t too good for the environment, being connected with other students and groups via e-mail and the Internet can have enormous power. Indeed as the Internet has become the newest weapon in the fight for social justice, the value of being connected is greater now than ever before.
As much as we may hate e-mail spam, the fact is that e-mail and the Internet have become the primary ways that we discover new ideas and trends. A week an a half ago, for example, effective e-mail advertising brought over 2,200 health experts and leaders from 54 countries to Yale for the Unite for Sight global health conference.
Most importantly, the Internet offers us the space to connect with other people and magnifies our collective impact. For example, the Roosevelt Institution began a few years ago as small group of students meeting in a Yale dorm room, and now through the power of the Internet, it has grown into a 7,000 member organization on over 70 college campuses.
Indeed, in the same way that the new technology of the radio allowed Franklin Roosevelt to spread his message about the New Deal, our millennial generation is using the Internet to revolutionize society. Barack Obama’s mobilizing capacity this election cycle is only the tip of the iceberg, and we should expect even more from online advocacy efforts in the years to come.
For health movements in particular, the Internet has a lot to contribute. Recently, the Pew Research Center reported that 80 percent of American Internet users have used the Internet to look up health information. Many of these people are taking advantage of online support communities, and more patients are using the Internet to mobilize community support to prevent and treat their conditions.
In addition to improving our own medical care, the Internet offers the potential for all of us to better connect with the health challenges facing our world today. No matter where you live, you can watch YouTube videos of communities that lack access to clean water then donate online to help build a well. In fact, Jeffrey Sachs recently spoke at Yale about his efforts to electronically connect villages in Africa with communities in the US in order to strengthen support for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
With new technologies, however, come new risks. The radio, for example, was a revolutionary way for FDR to communicate directly with all Americans through his fireside chats, but this potential for mass communication was also exploited by the Nazis and other fascist regimes to spread propaganda and exert totalitarian control.
Similarly, the Internet offers an enormous possibility for average citizens to create and communicate new information, but at the same time, this decentralization of authority creates a risk that our generation will become more polarized and apathetic as people use the Internet only to find information that confirms their existing views. The information for change is already available on the Internet but all too often it ends up in our junk e-mail folder.
In the end, to be effective in the information age, we must combine the power of new technology with the old-fashioned tactics of community organizing. Events like AIDS Walk which on Sunday brought together 700 members from all over the New Haven community, are needed now more than ever before. Even the extracurricular bazaar, with all its different groups, can teach us a lesson about going beyond our comfort zones and recognize the diversity of our community
So prefrosh, before you are assigned a college, select a major, and define your group of friends, take advantage of this opportunity to connect with the larger community. Sign up for a bunch of list servs and join the Yale 2012 Facebook group, but also think of how we can use these new Internet resources to fight for social justice. Our generation has the tools waiting in our inbox, we just need to hit reply.
Robert Nelb is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.