Ethan Zuckerman - Attention, Activism, and Advocacy in a Digital Age

Why is attention a useful commodity in this participatory media age?

About The Speaker(s)

Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, a principal research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, and a researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

He is also serving as the Principal Investigator on the Digital Activism, Global Dimensions project at the Digital Media & Learning Research Hub's Youth & Participatory Politics research network.

Resources

Download a PDF of this session's Livestream Chat archive

Mentioned

Questions Asked/Points Made

  • (12:06) I'm really interested in why we're starting to see--or why we're continuing to see--so much emphasis on media-centric activism.
  • (25:42) Is it really fair for us to say 'this is a long change, we'll know if it worked 20 years from now'? Or do we actually have to ask some much harder questions? How are we using the media? How effective are we at these cultural theories of change? Are these cultural theories of change leading to other sorts of measurable change?
  • (28:02) I'd be curious to hear from anyone who is familiar with these attempts to 'memeify' or gamify this year's election where they think those activities might land on this rubric Ethan presented, and whether those sort of attempts might actually culminate in real results, come the election.
  • (31:44) I think there's also the danger of when 20,000 people do something that isn't the most well-thought-out thing and then it doesn't work, they can become really disillusioned.
  • (36:14) One of the early assertions you made is that Occupy has changed the dialogue around 'we can change the banks, and, therefore, maybe we can change something else' -- I want to start building tools to test that. I want to figure out 'how long does it change the dialogue around the banks?' And then can we find ways to argue that that cultural change links to another form of change, or that that cultural change links to future change?
  • (36:47) Can we track how a campaign influences media dialogue, and then can we track beyond that media dialogue and see how it might be influencing debate on the House floor, or how it's influencing corporate action?
  • (38:01) I think the theory of change is not legislation, frankly. I think the theory of change is much more about hackathons and social investment, crowd investment, venturing, and creating a whole new series of alternative institutional economies--which actually start to challenge the dominant economy. [...] I suppose I see a slightly different theory of change where I would be putting my analysis on the social start-up economy. I was just wondering how you were linking up into that?
  • (41:30) I don't want to end up in a situation where we say 'let's let government off the hook and let's assume that we have to do it all ourselves.' I see the appeal to that but I'm finding myself as a progressive who wants to make the case for public goods, that I probably can't Kickstart my way to the future. I don't want to see activists give up on the legislative change or the authority change.
  • (44:31) How do grassroots organizations share theories of change and tactics, and what works?
  • (48:35) I'm actually sort of notoriously skeptical of creating our own 'civic Facebook.' We're at the point where, at a billion users of a system, building your own is just a really hard thing to do.
  • (51:52) Have you looked at change at the individual and community level? What kind of changes does the involvement and even failed movements have on people's sense of efficacy and likelihood of contributing to causes?
  • (53:47) We know that we want change to happen, we know that we want people to be engaged in change--are we effective at it? Are we using people's energy? Are we using, sometimes, the money supporting these movements?
  • (54:59) Are theories of change somehow different if we're looking at the local scale, say, a city level?

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