Duties of An Internet Citizen

Four months ago, when I was invited to participate at eSTAS (Symposium on Technologies for Social Action) hosted by Fundacion Cibervoluntarios in Malaga, I felt dubious about how I was going to approach the subject of change within a technological context. The topic of this year’s edition was “Innovation for citizen empowerment through new technologies” – quite a powerful statement. Should I input my own personal experience or focus on those that I encountered through the project? Should I talk about my filming experience or how others reacted upon seeing the technology for the first time? Despite the questions, I was certain I wanted to participate.

The event united several minds working on different fronts, including Lina Ben Mhenni, winner of the BOBs award for Best Blog in 2011, in which she denounces injustice and government censhorship in Tunisia; Judith Torrea, winner of the Reporters Without Borders at the BOBs award 2011 for her blog “Juarez en La Sombra,” revealing drug related crimes in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; and Chris Moya, founder of Spainrevolution.com, a free online platform for citizens to discuss the social and political 15M movement, which started amidst the current financial crisis in Spain. Differently from most of these speakers though, I came from a film and media background. I am not an activist. But since technology doesn’t limit itself to the Internet, the information acquired through People of Change became relevant within the context of change.

Change itself is a complex term to define. In a previous post, I talked about the difference between social development and social change. In the prospect of change, one must assume a differentiation occurs (either progressive or regressive) through time; “social” characterizes the type of change: behaviors, traditions, and beliefs. Social development on the other hand, possesses the physicality of indication: buildings, schools, and new technologies – an increased utilization of human resources through time. Social development affects social change, as well as social change influences social development.

Same principle applies to the Internet. The technology has caused social change since its inception. From consumerism patterns to increased connectivity, we have found new global patterns. And as a global tool, we are evolving together. Some countries indeed have a greater participation than others but if once we were stuck to regional television programming or local news, now a person in Spain can easily watch a live video in India as someone in Australia can access local news in Mexico. Differently from other forms of media though, the Internet is the most democratic. For the first time we have the opportunity to be part of media through user-generated content. Television and magazines and even films present an unalterable content to viewers and readers. It’s a one-way relation: here’s what we want you to see. Certainly, some networks and media conglomerates are now utilizing online resources to provide an “inclusive experience;” ultimately, there’s usually an editor deciding what will make the cut and what won’t.

With online media, you can be your own editor. Theoretically, anyone can input personal perspectives, define preferences and publish self-made content. Yet, with such increased participation, comes responsibilities. For those connected on the web, we’ve become Internet citizens – one common global language (with certain restrictions and variations here and there) ultimately uniting all users. And as mere observers or active participants, we have different ways of exercising our rights and duties. Perhaps, our single most important duty is the creation of an overall consciousness that can steer change. The Internet (and all other forms of technology) if put to good use, has an immense potential. And I’m not simply talking about updating your Facebook status or stalking your friends online, or even becoming a world-class hacker. I’m referring to a positive social change: an increased number of citizens engaged with relevant causes and matters.

Putting restrictions and censorships aside, there’s an extensive array of information and content readily available on the Internet. Such information could definitely be used towards these positive changes. As Ayn Rand says in The Nature of Government, “the two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade. Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation; the knowledge potentially available to man is greater than any one man could begin to acquire in his own lifespan; (…) The second great benefit is the division of labor: it enables a man to devote his effort to a particular field of work and to trade with others who specialize in other fields.” Hence, with the global reach of the Internet comes the responsibility of defining and trading the relevant knowledge – what truly matters for the sake of change. Yet, for a great portion of users, the Internet austerely equals entertainment. Despite the drastic differences between other forms of media, we can clearly see patterns of how the Internet is currently being used; and it doesn’t differ that greatly from other forms. There’s nothing wrong with our right of entertainment, as long as we are also exercising our duties as empowered citizens. The imperative question then becomes how to transform the overall consciousness and cause change in all its potential?

Some say we need to change our communal consciousness if we want to see positive changes in our society. Maybe this is the answer. As the Internet starts reaching other parts of the globe, we are adding individual minds to this communal network. With a greater outreach, the opportunity to properly educate citizens becomes a reality. This increased social development can indeed be turned into a positive social change; whether we eventually choose to fully exercise our rights, we must at least know our responsibility.

I came to Spain not knowing what to expect. During the course of the event, as I prepared for my interview and listened to other speakers, one sudden realization came to mind: what’s the use of technology if not exercised in an imperative way? More than myself contributing to providing an answer, all participants and speakers contributed to my own personal search. I leave Spain with several answers and a great will to continue this work. Not necessarily People of Change, but mostly exercising my potential as an empowered Internet citizen.