A Different Kind of Activism

Recently, I have adopted a completely different attitude towards activism.

The following quote appears in several forms; here is one of them:

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

As an example, let’s suppose Bob, through experience and research, has concluded that social media is bad. This is the first problem: what is good and what is bad? We won’t get into moral philosophy here, but it is clear that what is bad for Bob could be good for someone else.

That someone else is living a happy life (as far as the someone else is concerned). However, Bob expends precious time trying to convince someone else. He gives someone else articles and books he read, but he cannot give someone else his experience. Someone else isn’t interested in the articles or books anyway. Bob is frustrated that many other people don’t see the truth. But does Bob see the truth? We won’t answer that here, either.

But let’s assume that Bob more or less knows the truth. Unless people are actively looking for the truth, it is unlikely that they will genuinely change their opinion on the phenomenon because of Bob’s yelling.

Instead, what if Bob simply minded his own business and followed his principles. I don’t know if there is a term for this kind of behavior. When people ask him to connect on social media, he says only the facts, with a calm mind. He tells them that he does not use social media. If that is not sufficient, the other people will ask him why. Then, he can explain his experience and research, again avoiding anything that sounds “preachy.” If the other people understand his views, they might adopt them. They might not. In the long run, it does not matter.

Now, this will certainly not spread awareness of an “issue” (perhaps other people don’t perceive it as a problem) very quickly. Nevertheless, some people will understand the issue and perceive Bob’s view as the truth.

I have experienced many benefits by acting like Bob at the end. I have more free time, my state of mind is healthier and clearer, I don’t create conflict among people or start arguments about what is right and wrong, (consequently) I get along will other people well, even if I don’t agree with their views, and I have found that people are more willing to talk about an issue when they are not being “preached” to. If I indeed have the correct view, then there should be nothing to worry about.

I would hope that the Humane Tech Community continues to stay clear of dogmatism, and I welcome any thoughts on what I have suggested.


A good post; thank you.

The method you have of discussing issues with people reminds me of the recommended approach in Crucial Conversations, a book by social scientists. They say that most people threatened by views that differ with theirs will react in one of two ways: violence, e.g., getting angry and arguing; silence, i.e., withdrawing from the conversation. If one party can provide what the authors call safety, both parties can explore sensitive or threatening topics.

I’m also reminded of the concept of leading by example: modeling the behavior you want others to adopt.

There are strong, consistent elements in CHT/the forum’s approach to social problems created by digital technology, but I don’t see these as dogmatic. Rather, CHT/the forum is trying to identify behaviors that might hurt us and is advocating healthy responses.

In pursuit of those aims, there is a bit of passion or proselytizing. Is this what you are calling dogmatism? In June I wrote a response to @tristanh’s testimony before the UK House of Commons, saying that I felt his characterization of users of social media didn’t include people like me.

I ended with what I called bold claims, one of which was this: “Those of us who are different from our fellow human beings can play a couple of minority roles, either active or static. We can proselytize and try to convert others to be like us, or we can anchor ourselves in the bedrock and let social and cultural currents flow against us. Or, of course, we can do a bit of each.”

It didn’t occur to me at the time that there is a third way: through art and literature, i.e., cultural forms that allow idiosyncratic, creative expression of ideas.

My BF refers to the man I call Trump as Our President (I’m using capitals to convey his tone of respect). When the New York Times “bombshell” opinion piece appeared on Wednesday, I read it and a few commentaries with great interest, but I said nothing to my BF. (We are one of those two-party couples who disagree about many things but try to preserve domestic peace by not arguing.) I feel that this “pregnant” silence speaks volumes about my desire to let him be and sort out his feelings and thoughts by himself.

@john, @patm, good points, both of you. This is definitely something to consider in our communication on humane tech topics, especially in our increasingly divided world of conflicting opinions.

On this forum alone, we have stated multiple times, that perceived problems for one do not apply to others. Saying “Ditch Facebook now, everyone!” is not the way to go.

CHT has the strategic goal to raise awareness and make sure that it spreads, but I agree, that as a best-practice we should be balanced in communicating the message. Besides just focusing on negative aspects, and giving prescriptions, in our content we should always enumarate both the pros and the cons, and just offer the facts and figures so people can decide for themselves whether to adop them or not.


I agree here totally- in medicine we call this “informed decision making”. Before a person has surgery, they are given the risks and benefits- and then they make a decision for themselves. This involves lots of dialogue and patience…

This forum can inform people- but also empower people to make the best personal technology interface decision for themselves. If that means deciding to regularly use FaceTime or Skype- great- or on the flip side- a parent who may have to institute a tech detox in a household- that’s ok too.

We all deserve dignity and respect- it is a humane way to live;)

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This is a great approach, for adults. Perhaps a bit different when schools are pushing it and you can’t follow your principles?

On schools you can follow a two-pronged approach; target the different audiences. On the one hand show pros and cons of technology in the classroon to teachers and have information and best-practices for schoolar/students on how to handle and best cope with it.

Do you believe, then, that most people make decisions based on rational evaluation of risks and benefits? Lots I’ve evidence that that is not the case. Have you read Any of Kahneman’s work?

As usually practiced, at least, “informed consent” is a sham. I’m a pulmonary and critical care physician with many years of experience. The idea that people act rationally in the face of uncertainty has been shown by decades of research to be incorrect. I’m not suggesting patients shouldn’t be told the risks and benefits of procedures etc. but that those providing the information need to understand the limitations of informed consent and the role of cognitive bias in decision making.

@pakirk In critical care medicine that is true- because people are pretty sick they have no choice. The risk is in not doing anything at all. I work in a surgery center where 70 cases are done per day- four fifths of which walk in the door by themselves… discussing the risks and benefits of doing spinal fusion at the age of 75? You bet it’s important!! These conversations actually delays our cases how much they talk at length… so at our hospital it is not a sham it’s a person’s right when they may be harmed by doing something.

To know what will happen when exposed to something potentially harmful is the gift of education and knowledge. Most of my job is giving people choices everyday based on informing people.

Most people don’t, I agree. But the truth needs to be told. We could split hairs on the wording of people’s posts here- we need to ask ourselves- is this constructive and humane to pick apart the language of someone who has a valid concern about not being informed? No it isn’t.

What is the harm in empowering people to seek more information… to make personal decisions regarding their relationship with technology. We all must respect each others journey here. People need to educate themselves to make thier own decisions regarding technology use.

Withholding known risks because some people might not listen is illogical and wrong. There are people who do want to make healthy decisions- and actually have the discipline to follow through.

Risks and benefits are basically “pros and cons” and this has been an ongoing theme on this forum- people wanting information- why not??

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I am a layman, but I would say that especially in healthcare it is worthwhile and important if people are being informed as much as possible by the specialists and experts that treat them.

Not sure of numbers, but I imagine lotsa people wandering into a healthcare clinic have informed themselves beforehand on the internet, which we all know is awash with medical disinformation and pseudo-science.