Sunday, February 06, 2011

As the crow flies over Cairo

On the world map that hangs on my wall, Seattle exists a mere 17 inches from Cairo, Egypt.  The world gets smaller every day--clearly not accomplished by the fact of a map hanging on a wall in my apartment (and the arbitrary distances it chooses)--yet I can conceive of that 17 inches as a much smaller distance than was possible not that many years ago.

What does this 17 inches mean?  Well today, in this moment, in this year, it means a lot.

Protests in Cairo this last week have been pushing for a transition to a new government.  For many people this is curious, interesting even, but does it matter?  Protests in Tunisia, in Yemen, in France, in Mexico...protests.  Perhaps nothing new.  But perhaps they are.

Ben Curtis/AP
A whole generation--a very large generation--of young people is coming of age in the Middle East.  For that matter, a whole lot of young people are coming of age all across the 'third' world.  And they want jobs.  So do I, so do my friends, so do my students.  Some of those young people are pushing for access to jobs in the 'first' world and getting visas to the U.S., to France, to Germany.  They are studying for advanced degrees, winning positions in prestigious companies, maintaining communication with friends and family at home and truly changing the face of the world by creating global communities.

Those 17 inches, because of the internet, the airline industry, Skype, blogs, and satellite TV, are almost a meaningless distance.  I see Cairo and Cairo sees me.  But I'm watching Cairo in a very different way than Cairo is watching me.

What's happening in this push for a global community is both exciting and scary.  Young and old making demands for a transition to democratic leadership in Egypt--exciting.  The potential for instability in a country that helps keep cheap oil flowing straight to the U.S. and Europe--scary.

Perhaps the pushes for reform, advanced education and jobs that are happening all around the 'third' world will be a moment for reflection, readjustment and eventually, new innovation.  Perhaps the price of oil will rise as the Suez Canal goes into a state of flux and this will push new energy technologies onto the marketplace and spur job creation in a whole new sector.  But perhaps in the meantime this will increase the price of food, heat, transportation and just about any product that travels any distance to arrive at market--meaning, all of them.

The 17 inches between Seattle and Cairo have become very small indeed.  So small that what happens in Cairo has ripples that surely end up in my pond.  This is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time--as moments of transition always, certainly are.  What we choose to do with a moment of transition can determine quite a bit about our future.  So let us absorb not only the import of this moment but also its possibilities.  For anyone interested in fostering a global community, in learning from dynamic social movements or in developing the technological innovation that supports a fast-paced, integrated world--for all of you, this is your moment to shine.  Seize it.

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