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The Unprecedented Power of Young Adults

Mar 11, 2008
Here at The University of Louisiana, an undergrad recently lamented to me about the passing of the student activism of the 60s & 70s. He noted that his generation feels as if those possibilities no longer exist.

That is ridiculous. Today's young adults have much, much more powerful than any generation ever has.

Wikipedia is an important model to look at. Two years ago, our nonprofit was talking with the Wikipedia staff about a possible cooperative project. When we first began working with them, of all the websites in the world, they were ranked #19.

Consider that ranking; Wikipedia was competing against Google, CNN, MSN, eBay, AOL, enormous corporations with massive budgets.

And at the time? Wikipedia had only 2.5 people working in their office. Even more impressive: since then, the WikiMedia Foundation that oversees Wikipedia has gone through several CEOs, it faces constant funding, staffing and other internal challenges, it works with a group of volunteers who also elect much of the WikiMedia Foundation Board, meaning the volunteers are both managers and managees... and after all those problems?

Wikipedia has passed the 10 websites ahead of it, to sit at #9 in the world. How?

You can figure it out for yourself, because the same thing is happening all over the Internet. Just go anywhere on-line: eBay, Craig's List, Geocities, Youtube, Blogger, del.icio.us, Flickr, Facebook, Napster, Linux, and on & on. The computer programs available free from the OpenSource community, and the new tools available- RSS, IM, blogs, message boards, ListServes, cell phones, podcasts, social networking, cell phone cameras, eMail, eZines, video streaming, social bookmarking, porable video recorders-- have allowed people, primarily young people, to create value and wealth for companies around the globe, wealth exceeding the GNP of all but the very largest countries.

The Caesars of Rome, the di Medicis, the Russian Tsars-- none controlled the immense power that a student holds in just one cell phone. Given these insights, what is possible? If students really have created that much wealth (and they have), and if they wield that much power (and they do), then what are the limits? What could today's young adults accomplish with some dedicated effort? How might government, education, and poverty change if students made up their minds to change them?

City Hall, it is often said, cannot be beaten. That's not true. People beat City Hall every day. The media, however, is a completely different story. They get to publish their version, so they always get they last word, meaning they always win...

...that is, if you aren't media yourself. If you can publish your own version, you can compete with the media.

And today's media are largely young people, young adults. In fact, the term "media" doesn't mean what it once did, for exactly that reason. In the past, "media" really meant two separate things: the medium, i.e., the vehicle for delivery; and the information, the cargo the vehicle carried. But the movements we noted previously show that, although corporations still control the vehicle, the content comes from the public. And that public is largely young adults.

Which leaves us to ask, what do we need the corporations for? There are any number of cheap or free platforms that allow us to control our own message. If we don't want to buy software blogging, the OpenSource movement will supply us with several options. And if we don't want to pay the minimal costs for hosting, then there are thousands of websites that will give us a free blog, where we can control the message.

This is true for any application on the 'net. The OpenSource movement has free software that will replace all of the packages that we pay for, and all of the corporate websites out there, from the smallest add-ons, right up to massive programs for operating systems, Internet publishing, on-line retail, all of it.

Considering that, it is clear that although the medium may still be produced by corporations, the successful websites are largely those where the public generates the content. And that public, more and more, is a young public.

That's how much power students have. The power to change the world.

It's that simple. All that is necessary is for students to merely recognize the truth, and pick their path.
About the Author
Joseph N. Abraham MD is founder of The Acadiana Educational Endowment and booksXYZ.com, the Nonprofit Bookstore sending all proceeds to Education. booksXYZ.com lists over 2,000,000 paperbacks, hardbacks, and audio books. Dr. Abraham has written the book Happiness: A Physician/Biologist Looks at Life, an engaging self help book.
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