Skip to main content

Are social media creating the laziest generation?

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
tzleft.dean. obeidallah.jpg
  • The reality-show generation watches instead of doing, Dean Obeidallah
  • Commenting about events on social media has become our national religion, he says
  • Obeidallah asks: Are social media seducing us into being slacktivists?
  • In the Arab world, people risked life and limb to effect change, he says

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah is an award-winning comedian who has appeared on TV shows such as Comedy Central's "Axis of Evil" special, ABC's "The View," CNN's "What the Week" and HLN's "The Joy Behar Show." He is executive producer of the annual New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and the Amman Stand Up Comedy Festival.

(CNN) -- We are the reality-show generation. Instead of doing, we watch: We watch people sing, dance with B-level stars, fist pump, pawn stuff, pick a husband/wife, get extreme makeovers to their homes and faces, be "real" housewives, keep up, lose weight, go to rehab, get fired, survive.

And the voyeuristic nature has spilled into everyday life. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and a host of other social media platforms, all the world's now truly a stage, and we are all players in the reality show of life -- either as the "stars" or as the self-appointed pundits.

Observing events and then commenting about them on social media has become our national religion. We anxiously wait for the next celebrity to screw up, another politician to be caught in a sex scandal, the verdict in an even higher profile murder trial or simply a friend to do something stupid so that we can quickly begin worshipping at the altar of the social media platform of our choice to offer our (or read others') opinions, jokes, jibes and the occasional insightful thought.

In the past, people would recount where they were when an historic event occurred such as the Kennedy assassination, the space shuttle exploding or the 9/11 attacks. In the future, we will instead recall what we tweeted, posted or read on social media platforms about such events.

Yes, it's fun, and I'm guilty of doing the same thing. But here is my growing concern: Are we becoming the laziest generation?

Is social media becoming our opiate of the masses seducing us into being slacktivists, believing that simply because we make a cyber comment, we are somehow actually affecting our world? Will our generation leave a lasting legacy or just millions of snarky tweets?

Look at the preceeding generations: In the 1940s and '50s, there was the "Greatest Generation," a generation of doers, not watchers, who through their dedication, work ethic and sacrifice, built our nation into an economic superpower.

They were followed in the '60s and early '70s by a generation that took to the streets to oppose the Vietnam War and press for civil rights, causing American policy to change on both the foreign policy and domestic fronts.

In contrast to their activism, many of us are only engaged in slacktivism: clicking "Like" on Facebook, digitally signing an online petition or retweeting someone else's thoughts on Twitter.

That is a good start, but it will take more than that to cause meaningful change. We need to look no further than the recent democratic revolutions in the Arab world for guidance. Protesters there utilized social media, but they didn't just post comments on people's Facebook walls and sit back; they then took to the streets and risked life and limb to effectuate change. All the tweets in the world would not have driven the presidents of Egypt or Tunisia from their offices.

What is more likely to get our generation into the streets to protest: a political issue or Facebook imposing a fee to use it?

I know that in today's increasingly complex and challenging world it seems that one individual can't have an impact on the issues facing our country or our planet, but you can, and if you choose to, you will.

As Robert F. Kennedy's inspirational yet realistic statement tells us: "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

I'm not in any way advocating that we stopping using social media -- in fact, please follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook and Google+ -- but if there is an issue you really want to make a difference on, it will take more than a tweet of 140 characters or updating your Facebook status to do it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.