Center Co-Director Chris Csikszentmihalyi spoke with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Washington Post earlier this month about using the web for activism—and its both radically great and oddly superficial potential for effecting change.
Csikszentmihalyi was featured as an expert in the Plain Dealer’s blog post about lax Ohio drilling laws, where “natural gas companies drill wells 100 feet from homes.” He leads the Center’s ExtrACT project, which uses web-based and mobile tools to help landowners organize themselves against predatory drilling companies. From the article:
[Ohio] urges residents approached by gas companies to contact a lawyer, research drillers and check safety records. That’s tough, since the state does not keep track of complaints or violations, and the technical jargon is difficult for most people to understand. So, the accountability group is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create an online database that tracks citizens’ experiences with the drilling industry.
That way, homeowners can compare promises and payouts, which depend on contracts and wells’ productivity.
“Many, many people who have signed a lease often feel they didn’t know enough about it at the outset,” said Chris Csikszentmihalyi, who is working on the [ExtrACT] project at MIT. “There’s an information imbalance…If you’re an oil and gas company, you know exactly how much everyone in the neighborhood is settling for.”
Meanwhile, Csikszentmihalyi coined the phrase “click-through activism” to describe, for the Washington Post, those participants in an online cause “who might excitedly flit into an online group and then flutter away to something else.”
In some ways, [Csikszentmihalyi] says, the ease of the medium “reminds me of dispensations the Catholic Church used to give.” Worst-case scenario: If people feel they are doing good just by joining something—or clicking on one of those become a fan of Audi and the company will offset your carbon emissions campaigns, “to what extent are you removing just enough pressure that they’re not going to carry on the spark” in real life?
The Post asks how a Facebook group is supposed to overcome such short attention spans, ones where status messages switch in less than a week from mourning Neda to Farah Fawcett to Michael Jackson. “A better scenario for Internet activism, Csikszentmihalyi says, would be if causes could break down their needs into discrete tasks, and then farm those tasks out to qualified and willing individuals connected by the power of the Internet.” Which is exactly what Csikszentmihalyi does for groups at the Center for Future Civic Media.