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Overactivism April 28, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.

You have 29 unread emails. 6 of these are important. Of the remaining 23, 15 are activist emails drawing my attention to a bomb-blast here or a rape or four there. What do I do? I delete them along with the Facebook updates that I simply mark and destroy without even opening. 

No, come now, don’t judge.

 I do have some sort of a reaction first. I feel a small sense of pride and self-worth. “Oh how nice that she [sender of activism email] holds me in high regard, thinking that I’m the type of person who will respond and make a change.” With the smile of this thought on my face I push delete…except for the times when guilt forces me to open, read, sympathise and then push delete.

It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t know which email or invite to care about. Time and practicality tells me that I cannot read and answer every single “help us/them” thrown my way.

The digital age provides the best platform for passing messages that can reach large numbers in small spaces of time. But the most important message that needs to be sent out on every platform of the internet and with every new technology is the one that every primary school teacher repeats like a mantra (it obviously doesn’t sink in): “I can’t hear you when you all scream at once”.

At every login and password one is bombarded with cries to “Save Palestine” or “Fight for Gender Equality.” Email inboxes are full, Facebook group invites are never-ending (how many groups must you have for the same cause? If it really is that important why not merge and join support bases?), and cell phones are beeping their ancestors’ little antennas off with automated SMSes.

The Digital Age as a brilliant era for activism opportunities is being wasted due to overload on potential supporters. There are so many messages thrown around that none of them are meaningful anymore. There are issues that are genuinely cared about by those being targeted but they become little more than spam when they attack them constantly.

Perhaps part of the problem is that online activism blurs the line between activists and the people they’re supposed to reach. Just as blogging has opened up the field of journalism to any member of the public, now anyone can become an activist without really being that active at all. Gone are the days when those who put serious thought into influential campaigns, organised marches and stood on corners handing out informative pamphlets were called activists. Now all you have to do is click on a button to forward an email or click on friends’ names to send out invites to groups. This means that the number of ‘activists’ has increased and so has the span of the message, in an ‘information overload’ kind of way.

The solution does not require keeping activism off digital platforms but it does require me being forced to sour my tongue by stating a cliché: Leave it to the professionals. If you feel strongly about a cause then by all means fight for it and reach out to others to help in the fight but don’t ‘do your bit’ by passing along messages that weren’t created by you in the first place.

Leave it to blogging.

This way only those who are willing to put in the proper time and effort and who are actually being active about a cause will have a platform for their messages. In the same way those who are interested in specific causes can search for them when they want to and then read up as much as they like without feeling like they ‘re guilted into it or facing information about it every day, without actually taking anything in. Activist blogs or websites will retain the meaning in messages about causes, instead of letting them be lost to millions of mark-and-deletes.



1. tallyunlikely - April 30, 2009

A friend of mine got really angry recently when someone forwarded her a digital petition about some kid who was kidnapped in a shopping mall and raped. The email went into graphic detail trying to make her feel anger or something… all it made her feel was sick and paranoid and disturbed for days afterwards. I really don’t think that kind of thing helps anyone.

One thing she said was that digital petitions don’t do anything anyway so it’s not really worth even hitting the forward button. All it does is make you feel like you’re doing something when you’re really not so really they’re counter-productive because where someone might have actually done something, now they’re lulled into believing they’ve played their part.

Maybe that’s something you could look at in further detail in one of your blogs? I dunno, think it could be interesting to look at digital petitions and whether they’ve ever actually done any good. Maybe the results will be surprising?

Farzana Rasool - May 2, 2009

Thanks Tally, that’s exactly my point.

I actually am looking to do a post on electronic petitions and whether they actually mean anything for the progression of a cause. Thanks for the tip 🙂

2. areff - May 13, 2009

Here’s the thing.
Too much information. Too little processing. We are so bombarded with signs and info that we shut off to it. We are detached from any real sense of what is happening in the world. We can watch the news and eat our supper at the same time because of that mediated detachment. In reality we should all be throwing up into our plates. The Internet, in its capacity as a legitimate public sphere, is suffering with same disease. U r right. We all think that we are armchair activists because we click buttons on a device. Real activism is being there in the frontline with Molotov cocktails or placards and pickets (your choice).

But we can’t blame the one who created the movement, or is out there handing out flyers (which is the same as ‘spam’ mail). They r trying. But yeah, just because you took a flyer or joined a facebook group doesnt make u an activist. Unless it inspires u to join the struggle. Maybe finding one real activist out of 50 is enough to justify the situation.

3. Zubz - May 17, 2009

The new day activist no longer needs a large anorak or knuckle duster in pocket to knock up any possible apprehensive cops, all that is needed is dial-up connection, in fact even most “webphones” will allow so called champions of justice to fight the “oppression”. Who needs to actually go out and rerad up on news, or sift through populist propaganda and search for actual truth, or take up a placard, brave the elements and mobilise people a la Martin Luther King style and make some policy changes.

All you need to do now is open itunes put on your favourite playlist and select the forward all button and send the barrage of guilt to your contacts inbox, because these are issues that affect us all and we need to know the truth. The one spam scenario that annoys the crap out of me is the girls who forward pro women e-mails all while listening to Akon’s smack that or sum chauvinist trash from popular culture. The irony is sickening.

However there are ways of using it properly, due to the online revolution alternate views of news can be found, no longer are people searching for teh truth led back to the propoganda machines they distance themselves from, and many more writers/activists in teh true sense are given a platform to spread the truth, and as Areff said above finding one real activist is enough to justify the situation.

4. Farzana Rasool - May 17, 2009

areff and zubz, thanks for the insightful contributions!

Just one thing i’m not too sure about yet, does the 1 person really stand as a justification? If this 1 person was in opposition to no one at all then I would agree, but part of the argument is that more (than 1) people would respond and participate if they were not constantly bombarded with messages that all become ‘faceless’ in a sense, because they lose their unique meaning and therefore their message.

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