You can turn martial law and the dead into entertainment. If you’re a nine-year-old with a smartphone and a tablet, you definitely can.
That’s my most memorable take-away message from the recently concluded Cebu Press Freedom Week (CPFW).
I got into the Internet on a tourist visa. I’m not close to a digital immigrant and, most certainly, am not a digital native.
In his 2001 article, Marc Prensky created these distinctions. Millennials, born in the 1980s just as the Internet was booting up, take to technology as anyone in a bib given a digital mouse as a pacifier will.
However, this tourist-nearly-half-a-century-old also digs the Internet, a virtual public playground. Last Sept. 21, Sun.Star Cebu’s “Top of the week” editor singled out the online trend of posting selfie photos with the dead. After a prize was awarded to the best selfie of the week—the “photo of a girl, 13, who died in a car accident, with her relatives grinning beside the corpse”—a popular blog drew the attention of the police.
Last Sept. 21, I was also at the Marcelo Fernan Press Center theater, joining an audience dominated by millennials. A meme showed Rodrigo Duterte comforting a teen stood up by a date. When the Davao mayor mutters about cutting off the head of the fickle lover, a section of the audience titters.
The burning at the back of my neck forces me to count slowly. After reaching 10, I’m glad I’m not about to have a stroke. But the heartburn doesn’t go away until I’ve spoken out in the open forum.
Duterte, that most charismatic of politicians, jokes about summary killings on the day Filipinos remember martial law, the darkest in the nation’s long history of betrayal, repression and rebellion. Some of the millennials, born decades before Proclamation No. 1081, laugh at Duterte’s joke.
In my view, the black humor is watching the young be entertained by a viral meme about Duterte, dark knight of a “separate peace,” whose association with the Davao Death Squads brings back more than a stench of the nameless and faceless dead unearthed from unmarked graves dotting the landscape when the Marcos dictatorship imposed the New Society over the country.
Technology gap? Natives versus immigrants? Open access versus gatekeeping? All of the five CPFW events my students and I recently attended tackled the impact of technology and its potentials for good and evil.
Now on its 23rd year, the CPFW is the only event in the country that the news media industry organizes to commit to collective memory the stories that should never be forgotten. In the many fora held during this week, local students and teachers are not just warm bodies filling a venue. We are at the frontline of preventing mass amnesia.
Despite information overload, epic struggles with school administrators, and extra commuting costs for schools without buses, Cebu academia must make time for the CPFW.
Prensky challenges teachers to reach out and converse with students despite the gaps created by our generational differences in the use of technology. We should not be the last to wake up to the fact that the micro-media mocking history emanate from the young, absentmindedly doodling while we ramble and scribble on the board.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 27, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”