Sunday in the Park
I am so very sad tonight. I have received yet another email, from yet another friend, on the other side of my world, who has had YouTube banned from the entire country.
Freedom of speech, which we take for granted and is abused for granted, is not a right in much of the rest of the world. In much of the Middle East and Africa, it is a frightening, threatening concept that must be stopped. Any difference of opinion is met with violence and sometimes death at the very least, threats of both.
For a number of years now, I have been fortunate to have belonged to a community of caring, thoughtful people, who want to do good and spread ideas. It started with a conference called TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and it has expanded to folks who are active and want to change much about their own communities and communities worldwide that want/need help.
We are often rather naive in our enthusiasm to think that sharing an idea will allow for like-minded people to embrace those ideas and change their circumstances and, therefore, change the world.
Because this conference is always introducing us to Big Thinkers relative to this time on the planet, it is easy to think that the flow of information is equally received and available. But it is not. This censorship has shown us, again, how fleeting freedom can be.
A few weeks ago the details are still murky a trailer for a really bad movie showed up on YouTube. It was insulting to the Muslim religion but, hell, it was insulting to anyone who took the three minutes to watch it. To say this was low budget is to insult every low-budget independent filmmaker who gives a damn about the outcome of his work. This stuff is junk and lower. Think bad soap opera from the 50s or worse, without funding to do wardrobe or coach the actors or review the script. If you have watched the three-minute trailers available on YouTube, you know exactly what I am talking about. Still, whether we accept or believe the rhetoric, it was reason enough in Libya for protesters to storm a consulate and kill four people who were in no discernible way connected to the film. Freedom of ideas turns out to still be the stuff of fear-mongering after all these years.
I know what you’re thinking: Does it really matter if the rest of the world is denied another Justin Bieber video? Of course not. Another clip from Leno or Letterman or Jimmy Fallon? Not so much.
But YouTube is so much more, especially in the rest of the not-so-free world. Have you ever watched a lesson from the Khan Academy? Where everyday math and science and history are explained in such a way that you (I mean even me) can absorb a concept and repeat later because you have learned it in such a way that you can stop and repeat the lesson in the privacy of your own home until you get it right? The Gates family, you may have concluded, travels a great deal. The free online lessons, in a myriad of subjects, are among the tools the Gates family uses to educate their children. It is THAT powerful a tool. And it is available on YouTube. Free. But now that equalizing magic of math class on a laptop has been taken away from hundreds of thousands of people who need it the most.
Conversations about almost anything smart are the touchstone of the TED website. Thousands of hours of talks on every conceivable subject are there for the viewing, free, for anyone who has access to a computer. And the freedom to access YouTube. But now, along with all the stupid things pets and wronged lovers do, the ability to learn online from peers on the planet has been ripped away the world over.
My friend Anwar, from Sudan, says YouTube is banned there this week. Ditto in Afghanistan. My friend Saad, in Pakistan, said it is gone there too. You add those to the list of those already banning the exchange of YouTube information China, Iran, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Bangladesh and so many more you probably haven’t heard from yet for fear of repercussions and you have to weep. Which I have done quite a lot of, of late.
"Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose" has long been the refrain to much of how we positioned ourselves and viewed our lives in juxtaposition to others. Fragile, the idea that all men and women, and men and women who want to be with just men or women, want to be equal is scary to so many.
So we end here. With people who see the world changing at warp speed and never thought they would be forced inside the chamber to time travel from the current past into the current future. And the gap between cultures becomes a gulf. And we wonder why it seems impossible to fix the simplest of human-decency issues. And yet, until we speak the same language of what human decency looks/sounds like, we will be destined to watch lights turn out, one by one, the world over. Until we reach another dark night, with bright eclipses of, say, a still darker night. It is a thought I don’t know how to share with my far away struggling, to just understand their place on the planet friends, on this starless Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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Bruce Erickson, the planning director at City Hall, has died, the municipal government said. Erickson was involved at some level in nearly all the major decisions regarding growth and development in Park City since the early 1990s.