Background – Intro to Week 8: Digital Helpers in Different Shapes and Forms
So far, we’ve learned about categories of participation, different kinds of public spheres emerging online, and the of collaborative intensity, participation, trust.
This week – Week 8 – we’ll look at communities that gather online to help; that use digital organizing as one tool in doing good. Next week, we will look at communities that are involved in making social change happen; in using digital platforms to resist, to protest, to offer alternative structures, policies, practices, and justice. (The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive — but this divide may help us to observe some specific dynamics and practices of the The Helpers and The Change-Makers/Dissidents).
There are a few approaches to the the idea of the helpers: Knowledge about global problems doesn’t necessarily translate into action; we know so much but don’t have the tools to act. Alternatively, we do not commit to real action but, rather, engage in slacktivism…
At the same time, individually, we are very committed to technology that facilitates communication (- forming a community – let’s not forget how close those terms are.) But we can support movements such as the Arab Spring or a lone Pakistani girl wanting to educate herself (“We Are All Malala”) — merely because now we and the world knows, that is already a form of action, a form of international knowledge community, that can force change locally, nationally, regionally. Some people even talk about the do-it-yourself-foreign policy.
But then we have Digital Humanitarianism, well explained in this short TedTalk.
Digital platforms have not only made us aware but digital tools also help in new, creative ways:
- The crisis mapping tool Ushahidi (great short intros here and here) is perhaps the most often cited example — and extensively analyzed by Shirky (your reading for this week). The MIT Hurricanehackers, offered help during Sandy. Some even call these kinds of mapping efforts new journalism.
- Projects like Kiva has made micro-lending easy and effective (see and example here). (And mobile banking — while often not a community — provides boost to emerging economies.)
- Digital tools are giving people voices: One of pioneers is the non-profit Witness is teaching video activism against human rights violations — and creating new communities (see the timeline of the organization here — it illustrates the development of digital platforms for human rights reporting in a great way.)
- Free online education, as we have discussed, opens doors to those formerly very much excluded (as long as you have a computer).
- Mhealth is one of the emerging fields of humanitarian action. Here’s a very thorough NYT article on how cellphones do good world-wide. And naturally, more micro-level, peer-to-peer online support groups and health awareness campaigns are a part of the E-Health/M-Health movement.
The examples of global implications are endless.
But people are now part of different publics; they form different kinds of communities. note local effects can be equally important: One of my favourite projects, small but effective, is VozMob, “a platform for immigrant and non-immigrant low wage workers in Los Angeles to create stories about their lives and communities directly from cell phones, thus gaining greater participation in the digital public sphere, especially for those with limited access to computers.”
And then we have issue-driven communities. Apart from all political-social causes, there are the fan helpers like those of the indie rock star Amanda Palmer: Her goal was to get $100,000 in her crowdfunding campaign but she raised over 1 million on Kickstarter in less than a month (an act so unusual that it even caused a scandal). Harry Potter fans become “cultural acupuncturists” and use their community to evoke human rights activism. And there are friends of pitbulls (like me) who share rescue information, fundraise, and organize adoptions via Facebook. And so on…
Finally, we have national governments increasingly utilizing open data and digital technology. For instance, Icelanders have approved their crowdsourced constitution. Finland has launched a government-civic society partnership project for legislative proposals form the citizens… And here’s a short video depicting examples of e-government from the U.K.
Can you think of other communities of help?