From cyberbullying to cyberporn, the media is constantly buzzing about the negative uses of the Internet. This focus on negativity is simply an old paradigm way of getting attention. We've all heard it said that "bad news sells," but as new paradigms increasingly take hold, "the world," as Bob Dylan put it, "is a chang'n." Today, good news is gaining ground; in fact, the digital landscape is saturated with positive activity. Far more people engage in acts of altruism on-line than we're commonly led to believe and it's high time we began talking about it. In fact, research in the area of "digital altruism" suggests that it's a growing phenomenon. Why should we care about the fusion of goodness and the Internet? Because a healthy society depends upon it: In the words of noted futurist, Barbara Marx Hubbard "we must see images of social wellness if we are to have the faith and courage to heal our society and grow."
Some of the best "good news" is that we can use our smart phones and computers to improve our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, while simultaneously contributing to the creation of a healthy society. Many of us have already begun using our smart phones to encourage healthy habits, like keeping track of the miles we walk and monitoring our calories, but few realize the many ways we can use them to target our psychological wellbeing. Digital altruism is about making a conscious effort to do just that through using social media to support the development of character strengths and virtues.
Psychologists have studied character strengths and virtues for decades. Some of the most accessible research is that conducted by psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Their multi-year research resulted in the VIA Classification system, which identifies six classes of virtue, made up of twenty-four measurable character strengths. The classes and some of the character strengths include:
- Wisdom & Knowledge: Strengths such as creativity and love of learning
- Courage: Strengths such as bravery and perseverance
- Humanity: Strengths such as love and kindness
- Justice: Strengths such as teamwork and leadership
- Temperance: Strengths such as forgiveness and humility
- Transcendence: Strengths that encourage connection and meaning such as appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, and humor.
Digital altruism is about using our high-tech digital devices to support the development of these strengths and virtues. Doing so involves being selective about the media we take in, from the films we watch to the games we play. It involves being conscientious about what we post on-line and how we respond to the posts of others. But it doesn't stop there, digital altruism is also about recognizing that we can make a difference in the lives of others by sharing our knowledge on-line, and seeking out websites designed such that our everyday activities ends up benefiting others. This can be as easy as searching and shopping on-line through websites that donate to non-profit organizations (e.g., Ripple.org and BiddingforGood.com), or setting our computers to open to websites with a click-to-donate feature (e.g., Care2.com). Ultimately, digital altruism involves consciously realizing that your attention is an extremely valuable commodity. By looking for, and focusing on, media that promotes the character strengths, virtues, and qualities, you'd like to enhance, you'll not only be helping yourself, you'll be contributing "good vibrations" to the world at large.
We are a society that needs to look for and promote goodness. Everywhere and anywhere we find it. By promoting goodness it grows stronger and puts down roots (into our children's lives and through them the future). Right now we are like children with new toys in our hands, we can't seem to get enough of them. If we're not talking, texting, tweeting, or posting, we're searching, shopping, gaming, or uploading. If we are going to spend so much time with these devices we need to use them to extend our hearts, to grow our compassion.
Over the course of this blog, I'll be presenting options for doing just that. Engaging in digital altruism can improve your life and through it contribute to a healthier society. In my next post I'll be exploring the character strengths and virtues that are present in this year's Oscar nominated films. Check back and explore the characters' journeys and how their lessons might apply to your life.
Hubbard, B.M. (1998). Conscious Evolution. New World Library. Novato, Ca.
Klisanin, D. (2011). Is the Internet Giving Rise to New Forms of Altruism? Media Psychology Review [Online]. 3, 1.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
The VIA Institute on Character is a valuable resource for further info about Character Strengths and Virtues