Photo: Sukanto Debnath cc, thanks!
Social media technology is on the side of social action. It’s hard to hide people’s stories in a world where more and more people have access to communication.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JOSH POLLOCK
Spending this week at the Social Good Summit, and being surrounded by an impressive number of people using and creating social media was inspiring to be a part of.
The speakers told story after story of how they were using electronic and social media tools to do new and exciting things, from delivering healthcare, ebooks and educational materials to schools in poverty stricken and remote areas of the planet, to reuniting refugee families. (As Christofer Mikkelson co-founder of Refugees United said this week, “Technology is not the answer to the refugee problem, it’s a tool we need to leverage.”)
I came back to the summit this morning with an important question.
Photo: Boy in Uruguay, One Laptop Per Child Program cc, thanks!
When Alec Ross (@AlecJRoss,) the Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday of the breakdown of hierarchy with the rise of social media, he gave one of my favorite quotes of the day:
“The 21st century is a lousy time to be a control freak.”
Alex was right of course. What I am wondering about is, while this “social media revolution” is about new people being given a voice that can be heard all over the world, is it also about people speaking in a new or different way?
Speaking and listening with emotional intelligence
The Internet is a great way to make information available to people, but we are currently seeing in public debate we can’t win arguments such as the debate about global warming through making the information available alone.
The debate is not just about what is said, but how it is said and what parts of another person’s mind and sensibility we make an appeal to.
There are many reasons why climate change denial thrives in face of strong scientific evidence to the contrary. One reason is the emotional response to the implications of the changes needed to deal with the problem.
A government that can effectively deal with climate change is one based on the principle that the role of the state is to nurture and protect the people. For those who feel strongly that this is not the role of government, or if they feel strongly that the planet is here for us to use – that we are outside of something called “nature” – then the notion that humans can damage our climate in such a way that endangers our species, just doesn’t work for them.
So if we can’t win with facts alone, then how can we?
Empathy: respecting the otherness of the other
The first step is to foster a political discourse based on empathy. This is an important first step to counter the way that conservatives have dominated the framing of political debate in this country for a very long time.
Empathy is both central to progressive values and built into our minds, it is not a learned behaviour.
The noted biologist E.O. Wilson has identified in humans the innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike process, it is an instinct he calls Biophilia. As an evolutionary biologist, Wilson looks at how respecting the life that is around us has helped our species thrive and to do so has been built into who we are.
We are literally built to want the types of connections social networking creates. When we use it, we need to be mindful of and appeal to this instinct. When we appeal to others based on empathy, it activates the part of their minds that is most compatible with progressive values, the part of the mind that promotes the kind of ecoconsiousness that is needed to transform our society into one that can be resilient in the face of climate change and significantly reduce its impacts.
Not just facts. We need a common touch: authenticity
Social media is a technology that is built for storytellers. We tell quick stories in tweets and status updates. We share of ourselves in blog posts. For many of us we connect mainly with our friends and family, but the connectedness is worldwide. Appealing to others through their sense of empathy is not just effective, but it leads to a greater embrace of the kind of value system that values helping others, even people we don’t know and respecting other life forms.
New media technology is on our side. It is hard to hide people’s stories in a world where more and more people have access to this technology. As this technology spreads it will only get harder and harder for a system based on centralized and repressive authority to thrive.
Social networking is nothing new, this technology is only reinforcing an important aspect of what it means to be a social species.
More importantly, when we connect with others our brains reward us and we strive for more of that great feeling we get when we feel ourselves as part of something greater, when we surround ourselves with a respect for life itself.
Photo: Girls in Afghanistan, One Laptop Per Child Program cc, thanks!
Josh Pollock is a student of Environmental Studies at Goddard College, where he studies practical sustainable design for urban areas. He lives in New York City and works as an audio engineer and web designer. His website is http://www.ComplexWaveform.com
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.