By Marvin Gottlieb
Jewish Federation of New Mexico
Editor’s Note: The following remarks came from a speech given at the New Mexico State Legislature in November 2016 when the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace presented plaques to Holocaust survivors as a part of their Traces to Remember project.
Innovations like the internet come with both blessings and curses. Sometimes we get a perspective of the challenges of new innovations by examining older ones. As early as 1927, the new technology of motion pictures was touted as an important tool for improving public health, particularly in poorer countries. By the 1940’s, more than 100 films were produced by American and British companies on malaria prevention and control alone.
However, introducing what was a new technology at the time to populations unfamiliar with the genre was not without challenges. One story of such early efforts tells of an enthusiastic group of researchers and medical professionals arriving in a village around 1940 armed with their new film on malaria, highlighting the mosquito as the culprit, and suggesting several means for prevention. The audience was intrigued and enthusiastic, particularly since they had never seen a motion picture before.
The presentation seemed to be a great success, eliciting many oohs and ahhs, and enthusiastic applause at the end. The presenters asked for comments and questions, and an excited man in the front row jumped up and said: “I can understand why you have such a problem in your country when you have mosquitos that are so large.”
Like language, media, and technology in general, are not just a collection of words or pictures. They have a grammar. This grammar allows people to interpret and make sense out of the stream of information they are receiving. If a person does not fully understand the grammar, they can easily become confused or misled. Many in the world today have not completely learned the grammar of the new media that continuously bombards them. They are unable to clearly distinguish between truth and lies; between propaganda and news; between historical fact and revisionist fiction.
That is why efforts like the Traces to Remember project are so important. The descriptive research process of documenting events directly from the people who lived them, not only preserves the truth, but also helps teach the grammar of information because it is grounded in irrefutable truth.
So, innovations will continue to proliferate, and peace-loving activists will continue to deploy these new technologies for the good of all. The Facebooks, Instagrams, even simple text messages are currently being employed by peace affirming organizations to inform, to teach, to develop a better understanding of the world, its diversity and common goals, and how – through this understanding – we can achieve a peaceful society.