Creating Technology for Social Change

‘The Floods of Change’

In class last week, my group proffered a somewhat poetic vision of social change. We called it “The Floods of Change.”

Change is natural, inevitable, ongoing. In our model, the “mountain” of society constantly interacts with the “river” of ideas flowing down it. This river shifts over time, with some tributaries growing steadily or even spawning new branches. Meanwhile, other sections are at risk of drying up altogether. Some sections can even be forcibly blocked by man-made “censorship” dams. Ideas pool in the ocean at the bottom, and can later recycle through the ecosystem through evaporation. The overall change “climate” — monsoon season? drought? — may also play a significant role.

All the while, the shifting waters reshape the mountain, just as the mountain can reroute the waters.

Our group didn’t start with a defined conversation about media’s role in this process, but it seems clear that this, too, is multifaceted. Like a map, media can take stock of the land as it exists. Understanding how the topography exists then invites informed discussion of how it can or should shift. (This is where the model becomes slightly convoluted: the mountain is society, including resources [particularly human capital]. So this introduces the visually unusual but physically improbable image of a mountain moving bits of itself around. I count myself fortunate that I don’t have to bring a 3D version of our model this week.)

Last week, I proposed building a data visualization tool as my final project. This tool would keep track of the conversations going on in your self-curated community. In this sense, my tool is like that map: it is the real-time mapping of the mountain as it moves. Granted, this process is generally viewed from a more zoomed-out vantage point; I suspect that, in real life, watching social chance would be like watching grass grow. But a clear understanding of “what you’re working with” is crucial to effecting any kind of difference. You have to know what the problem is before you can solve it.

Joining an active community can be daunting. My hope is that a tool like mine can make engagement a little more managable, especially for those who are spread for time or who have trouble parsing through a large-scale conversation. If you know what people are discussing, then you can find a way to join in on the conversation. If you have a map that shows where the river is, then you know where to go for a drink.