Over the course of March we’ve witnessed a crowd-sourced effort unlike any other in aviation history. In my previous posts, I stated that the search for Flight MH370 exemplifies “collaborative heroism” a form of heroism that involves online action in tandem with action on the ground.1 Rather than requiring risk of life, as in traditional definitions of heroism, collaborative heroism is about proactive action in the pursuit of noble goals. Crowd-sourced wisdom becomes collaborative heroism whenever these efforts aim to achieve the goals set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Most examples of collaborative heroism aren’t as high profile as the recent search and rescue efforts, although some have been, for example, efforts to map territories struck by natural disasters such as launched through Google Crisis Response.2 Google’s Crisis Tools include Google Person Finder .
Online initiatives that support collaborative heroism are as wide-ranging as the human imagination. Whether they’re designed to help one person or millions, they all involve the use of digital technologies and require the collaboration of individuals both online and off. Many involve meta-level cooperation between governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, nonprofit organization, corporations, and individuals. These efforts need to be recognized for what they are: the human spirit in proactive pursuit of noble goals.
Here’s a short list:
World Community Grid’s mission is to create the world's largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity. Members donate their unused (idle) computer time in the service of solving complex problems (AIDS, Cancer, Malaria, Global water shortages, etc.). World Community Grid works by “joining together many individual computers, creating a large system with massive computational power that far surpasses the power of a handful of supercomputers.”
Avaaz has been described as “the world’s largest and most powerful online activist network.” With over 34 million members, the network empowers people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change.
Causes.com and Care2.com are social networking sites that enable individuals to take action on behalf of a variety of issues. These sites enable anyone to start a campaign and/or petition, while not all address noble goals, many do.
Change.org is the world's largest petition platform. There are more than 45 million users in 196 countries. Individuals use the platform to transform their communities – locally, nationally and globally. Many of these campaigns aim to achieve noble goals and have had profoundly positive consequences.
Unprecedented technological acceleration and innovation have changed the way we understand our world. As I write, researchers are scrambling to understand the impact of these technologies on the human body, our social interactions, and the natural world. Likewise, it’s important for us to recognize the many ways these technologies are impacting the human spirit. Individuals are using digital technologies to encourage hope, empathy, altruism, and compassion, but it is up to us to acknowledge their actions. Yesterday 3 million people went on Digital Globe with the goal of helping others. What does tomorrow hold? One billion acting together to solve pressing global challenges? By recognizing the flame of compassionate action within the hearts and minds of individuals using digital technology to participate in worthy endeavors, crowd-sourced wisdom becomes collaborative heroism.
1. Klisanin, D. (2013). "Contemporary Media, Heroism, and Social Change," Symposium, American Psychological Association, Honolulu, HI.
2. Google Crisis Response: https://www.google.org/crisisresponse/response.html