The era in which Net Geners have grown up has been a time period in which civil activism is not as prominent as it has been in other decades. I believe Net Geners, as non-activists, aren’t necessarily the exception but more the rule. The two interviews I conducted backed up my notion as both interviewees turned out to be more slacktivists if anything at all. (Slacktivist meaning one who is not constantly involved in the action part of activism.) John Palfrey and Urs Gasser mention “what the Net provides is an increasingly useful, attractive platform for those who are predisposed to be active in civic life” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010). I believe activism may be sparked by not only your background but the people you surround yourself with and are influenced by as well as the lifestyle, community and location where you live. Don Tapscott also notes, “Between elections, there is no real engagement by the citizens in the important decisions that affect their lives” (Tapscott, 2008).
It was apparent my two interviewees are not consistently engaged in any sort of civic activity or service. The extent of their activism is limited to clicks on the internet entailing things such as a “like” on Facebook or posting a comment on a website. I personally feel you can’t really call this activism. Despite my opinion, they both expressed being an “activist” if an issue personally affected them and compelled them to give their whole-hearted support.
Kevin Lewis, Kurt Gray, and Jens Meierhenrich conducted a study on digital-age action in regards to the Save Darfur Cause on Facebook which had 1.2 million members. They concluded:
While both donation and recruitment behavior are socially patterned, the vast majority of Cause members recruited no one else into the Cause and contributed no money to it — suggesting that in the case of the Save Darfur campaign, Facebook conjured an illusion of activism rather than facilitating the real thing (Lewis, Gray, & Meierhenrich, 2014).
This further reiterates that many people’s level of activism might be limited to simple clicks online rather real action or raising money.
According to Reputation Inc., author Laura Brummer notes, “The implication is that the gap needs to be bridged between click and action, slacktivism and actual passion” (Brummer, n.d.). Technology has created an immense platform to help convert slacktivists into activists if they choose to do so. Palfrey and Gasser note, “Affordable Internet technology and highly interactive, easy-to-use applications have enabled individuals to become active users and participants in public conversations” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010). This ties into what Brian Honigman stated in his Forbes article, “Social media created an enormous opportunity for converting more folks to higher levels of engagement” (Honigman, 2014).
Although the tools now exist, I don’t think the majority of the Net Geners I know are chomping at the bit to get involved or are on a plot to change the world as we speak. However, I do believe technology has created an instrument for our students to get their feet wet and discover what role they want to play in activism online or offline. As Palfrey and Gasser point out, “There are seeds of change that ought to be nourished” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010). We as educators can help nourish these by promoting our students to explore topics they are passionate about that might spur activism. And if the seeds blossom, students need to know the available tools but at the same time be cognizant of the nature and ethics of the internet. The internet is an extraordinary tool, but similar to research, you must be cautious of the source of information.
Brummer, L. (n.d.). Online Activists: Revolution or Click-Illusion? Retrieved fromhttp://www.reputation-inc.com/our-thinking/online-activists-revolution-or-click-illusion on June 25, 2014.
Honigman, B. (2014). How Tumblr Is Changing Online Activism. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/citi/2014/02/18/how-tumblr-is-changing-online-activism/ on June 25, 2014.
Lewis, K., Gray, K., & Meierhenrich, J. (2014). The Structure of Online Activism. Retrieved from http://www.mpmlab.org/Online%20Activism.pdf on June 25, 2014.
Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2010). Born Digital : Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill.