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Watching a War, in a Digital Ageby@withvungg
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623 reads

Watching a War, in a Digital Age

by An LeMarch 23rd, 2022
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I am born in 2002, a Vietnamese Gen-Z who grew up in an age of digital transformation. As a child fortunate enough to be born after our country’s independence, I learned about my country’s history through textbooks in history classes, through my grandparents’ tales of their memories, through visiting memorials that are just a few blocks away from my current home and observing the architectural remnants of the war in the corners my little Hanoi. In grade 5, I fell in love with the short story “The Paper Cranes” about Sasaki, a girl impacted by the radioactivity of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing who spent the last days of her life folding paper cranes on her hospital bed. At that point, most of my knowledge and interaction with war came from a combination of paper textbooks and physical monuments in my city.

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Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash


‘My First War’


I was born in 2002.


I’m a Vietnamese Gen-Z who grew up in an age of digital transformation.


As a child fortunate enough to be born after our country’s independence, I learned about my country’s history through textbooks in history classes, through my grandparents’ tales of their memories, through visiting memorials that are just a few blocks away from my current home and observing the architectural remnants of the war in the corners my little Hanoi.


In grade 5, I fell in love with the short story “The Paper Cranes” about Sasaki, a girl impacted by the radioactivity of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing who spent the last days of her life folding paper cranes on her hospital bed. At that point, most of my knowledge and interaction with war came from a combination of paper textbooks and physical monuments in my city.


"The Paper Cranes" story from my Vietnamese Grade 5 Literature textbook.


In secondary school and onwards, I saw my parents buying our home’s first computer, and thus my first gateway to making connections with the rest of the world by applying to my high school, United World College (UWC).


At UWC, I was studying politics and living in a boarding school environment with people from more than 70 countries. We came from all generations of war.


There were those who still lived with the memory of war from their family relatives, those who enjoyed the privilege of peace for their whole life, and those who were still concerned about the war back home while pursuing their high school education abroad.


When I read about any political conflict in my school textbook, I would always have someone at school with a related perspective that I could consult.


UWC taught me about living in a borderless world, where you can be understanding and respectful of all my friends coming from all walks of life, and a pure appreciation for peace as an important foundation for development.


As a college student now in a very privileged environment at an American university, I don’t have as much physical or human-to-human interaction and discussion about war as I previously did while I was living in Hanoi and living in UWC.


However, the recent announcement of the invasion of Ukraine still impacted me the same magnitude, with new mediums of information being introduced to me and people of my generation.


A War on TikTok

Valerisssh's videos, image by The New York Post


@Valerisssh is a girl just my age.


A TikTok algorithm brought her videos to me, and much like the millions of people who are following her account, I was captivated by her bravery and her humor in documenting her journey in a chaotic circumstance.


Compared to traditional news and media channels on TV where they would interview human witnesses of the war and add an overall conclusive statement at the end of the episode, Valerisssh’s stories are just her personality exploding through my small phone screen.


She owns her narrative, she controls the music she chooses in her video, and she chooses the way in which other Gen-Z would get to know the situation through her lens, literally through her footage, and figuratively through her own eyes.


There is something vulnerable and more personal when I got to learn about everything through Valerisssh. Perhaps it’s the fact that we are both the same age, both women, and both share an enjoyment of little moments of sarcastic humor in difficult times, although with all due respect my experience is nowhere near to hers.


In this digital age, anyone can hold the power and the media coverage equal to the scale of a TV show on their own. With a phone in your hand, internet access, and the bravery to own your narrative, your voice can reach millions.

Deepfakes

Deepfake of Zelensky on the internet


Yet, there is terrifying manipulation of technology in this situation. A few days ago, a deep fake version of Zelensky requesting the Ukrainian army to surrender the Internet. The golden age of information and content is a golden mine its antidote - misinformation.


Misinformation is not a new problem, but the power of deepfakes brings about new concerns. In the pre-digital age, misinformation was more structured and restricted by logistics and geography, whereas consumption choices were deliberately made and filtered.


For example, you can choose a specific newspaper source that you trust and subscribe to. However, the randomness of social media algorithms and suggestions now exposes society to an overwhelming number of choices.


Consumers don’t need to precommit to one newspaper (people can easily search up an issue on Google and read from multiple publishers), readers have less time thinking about which link they will choose, and the endorsement of news sources depend much more on the number of interactions they get online.

A Live Experience Through Streaming and Vlogging

A screenshot of Youtube streaming


Suddenly my Youtube news feed and algorithm also picked up on my curiosity about this topic and started suggesting me more related videos. A particular “genre” that piqued my interest was a collection of live cameras in different corners from Ukraine, and the rest of the world can comment and discuss synchronously in the live chat session on Youtube.


This unfiltered and uncensored comment section on Youtube of course doesn’t always display the most constructive statements about the situation. I am not impressed with the quality of knowledge that I gained from scrolling the myriad of messages and comments displayed here, but rather the participatory nature of social media and streaming in this conflict.


Anyone from anywhere can observe what is happening in the comfort and safety of their own home, and project their opinions too, in this case, 600k more people in the comment sections.


Vloggers


On another corner of the internet, you can easily find vloggers filming their journey leaving their home, living their regular life in this circumstance. The most recent video I watched was bold and bankrupt’s “Leavine Kyiv on a Refugee Train”.


As I sit behind my computer screen, I feel transported by the camera angle panning along the streets, the bus station, and capturing all the realistic sceneries and experiences from the other side of the world.


In some way, all these phenomena make me ponder the statement “History is his story”. When I consume information through the scripted and skillfully edited version of the traditional medium, I feel a distant and sometimes even desensitized narrative about what is going on.


Now, our access to information and the liberation of commentary on the internet in a way includes more people in the conversation, both in positive and negative ways.


Watching a war in a digital age, his-story has the potential to become their-story, our-story, and humanity’s-story, through a live, chaotic, and unfiltered perspective of a single camera lens that eventually gets projected through millions of screens.