Jon Warnow is the man behind Step It Up and now 350.org, addressing the climate change crisis. In an extremely entertaining presentation (he was testing out new presentation software which was a lovely change from slides), he discussed the evolution of open source activism. Beginning from figuring out how to create accessible campaigns that empower constituencies, we have reached a point where organizations such as MoveOn are incredibly efficient at gathering our views, aggregating them and presenting them to decision makers. However, Mr. Warnow feels that there is now “a hunger for people to be doing more than clicking on these links”, and posited that this efficiency may have come “at the expense of deep engagement and real social change”. He used the concept of an event horizon -not the science fiction horror film but ‘In general relativity, an event horizon is a boundary in spacetime, most often an area surrounding a black hole, beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer.’ to suggest that too much clicking without any follow up may lead to an event horizon for online activism.
To prevent that from happening, nimble organizations must respond to supporters’ need for meaningful offline action. We are moving to ‘a hybrid mode where we harness online tools for offline action’. Mr. Warnow characterized social tech as being at a crossroads, and believes the way forward requires us to place more focus on social change than on social media metrics in order to create a more balanced online offline experience.
The second speaker at the People Powered event was Jeremy Heimans. Much of what Mr. Heimans said struck me as being particularly relevant to the SRI community. “Movement makers must also be brilliant brand strategists and storytellers. It’s not enough to just be worthy.”
Coming from a background of political activism with GetUp in Australia, he has come to realize that “Citizen power isn’t enough.” Mr. Heimans showed a chart with the ‘huge global problem’ in the middle, and then identified constituents with political power, shareholders with financial power, consumers with purchasing power and the audience with cultural power as some of the sources of power people have. “The most effective 21st Century movements will give people many ways to exercise their power.”
“Movement making is being revolutionized – if only those hippies had had the internet.” Jeremy Heimans joked. Well, speaking as an aging hippie myself, I think we did a pretty good job without the internet, but it’s important to recognize that for the SRI community to be part of the current wave of social change, we need to be channeling the power of technology and social media far more effectively.