Designing Social Media for Social Change

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2008 at 11:20 am by Jeremy in process, research | No Comments

Welcome to the Social Media for Social Change project, part of the fledgling Philadelphia Applied Research Lab (PARL) that is currently being administered by the College of Media and Communication (CMAC) at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. My name is Jeremy Beaudry; I’m an Assistant Professor in Multimedia at UArts as well as the principal investigator for this project. Joining me in this effort are 3 exceptional students from UArts—Hunter Augeri, Ona Krass, and Alie Thomer—as well as Mallika Sarabhai, Yadavan Chandran, and Anahita Sarabhai from the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad, India. In just a few weeks, Hunter, Ona, Alie, and I will be traveling to Ahmedabad for 18 days in August to meet our Indian colleagues and conduct on-site research, conversations, and workshops to better understand the design problem and imagine possible solutions. Along the way we’ll be collaborating with and talking to many others, whose voices will also be included on this web site. Part of our commission as a PARL project is to document and critically reflect on our process as researchers, artists, and designers throughout the duration of the work. We encourage everyone to follow along by subscribing to the RSS Feed, and, in that same spirit of criticality and collaboration, join the conversation online by adding comments.

Social Media for Social Change. (Skip over to the about page for a more formal introduction to the project.) I think the fundamental question we’re asking (one of them, anyways) is: How can networked media and technology (old and new) be employed effectively in the service of grassroots organizing to build a social movement of young volunteers? The question is huge, and the city and country to where we are traveling to explore it is just as overwhelming. One of the many immediate challenges for us is to quickly understand the local context in order to sharpen our question(s). Here in our world at the University in a digitally-, media-savvy program, social media are ubiquitous and familiar and embedded into our daily interactions, often taken for granted; questions about access to these technologies are rarely raised by our students, who have known nothing else. In India, with its vast socio-economic discrepancies, the implications of “social media” remains to be discovered. Is “social media” a social networking web site, a shared mobile phone, a public gathering space, or something in between like Dr. Sugata Mitra’s computer kiosks embedded in the walls of slums? Yet, the opportunity to rethink “social media” in that context is one of the most exciting prospects for me.

In the days to come, the UArts students and I will continue to build a database of preliminary research and precedents as we further strategize, develop a methodolgy, and plan for our time in India. No doubt the questions we generate will far outweigh any answers. Again, we invite you to follow our progress and welcome any constructive comments, questions, and suggestions. More to follow soon…