Changing the World on an iPhone? Virtual Volunteerism & Social Change

What does volunteerism and social change look like in a the digitally/physically blended life? While some studies and critics indicate that Internet use is deteriorating family time and other face-to-face social interactions, that isn’t the full story. The other side of the story is about people using mobile technologies to be more active in trying promote positive change in the physical world, in connecting with others in meaningful ways. Toward that end, Linton Weeks wrote an excellent article at back in 2009 on The Extraordinaries: Will Microvolunteering Work? Weeks writes, “Shazzam! Charity meets brevity. Crowdsourcing for the common good. Turning ADD into AID.”

This article highlights the side of mobile technologies and digital culture that seems to re-connecting us to the physical world around us, not to mention the physical world half a planet away. Many of us have, in the words of John Muir (although I’m admittedly re-purposing the quote) lived “on the world but not in the world” for some time.

The full quote is,

“Most people are on the world, not in it – having no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them – undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate”

Even when we are AWK, wandering the physical streets, we sometimes walk right past the hurting and the problems all around us. While I’m the last person to propose that mobile technologies or any other invention will solve this proclivity of human nature, it is fascinating to see how some are making use of mobile devices to get back into the world, reach out, help out, speak up, get up, chip in, and live in their local communities…even if it is just via a text message or a quick cell phone photo sent to public works to fix a pothole. Or, thanks to services like, Donors Choose, and Global Giving; we get a very different picture of what is taking place when we see a man sitting on the subway typing on a two-inch keypad, seemingly oblivious to the people right to him. Who knows, he might be the in the middle of giving a no interest loan to a an aspiring low-income entrepreneur on the other side of the world.

Posted in digital citizenship, digital culture, volunteerism

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.