In 2006, Alyssa Wright, then a Media Lab student studying mapping, tackled a similar goal: she created a walking memorial in Boston to commemorate civilian deaths in Iraq. Shocked at the “astronomical” discrepancy between the actual civilian death count (she estimates it was up to 250,000) and what Americans thought the death count was (around 9000, she says), Wright wanted to make an impact. So she hit the streets with an exploding backpack.
“We really don’t have a sense of what it’s like in someone else’s shoes, but technology can bridge that gap,” says Wright, who tracked media-reported deaths in Baghdad and overlaid them onto a map of Boston. When she wandered into an area of the city that corresponded with a Baghdad death, her backpack exploded with white confetti, each piece inscribed with the name of someone who’d died.
These days, Wright is channeling her tech-meets-art-meets-protest angle into Hero Reports, a Manhattan-based Web operation that tracks courageous moments among everyday people by collecting e-mails, phone calls, and letters, and then mapping positive news. It’s a direct counterbalance to New York City’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign, which encourages people to look at each other with suspicion.
Hero Reports is not just a Web site. The project, which she began at the Media Lab’s Center for Future Civic Media, also uses an open-source mapping platform, which allows for greater customization. Most of all, it shows how technology can change social engagement and political decisions. Which is exactly what Wright wants.
From “Inventing the Future”, Boston Phoenix