The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has released new research exploring how digital media is transforming democracy and civic life. “Why We Engage: How Theories of Human Behavior Contribute to Our Understanding of Civic Engagement in a Digital Era” is a literature review from Eric Gordon (Berkman Center for Internet and Society; Emerson College), Jessica Baldwin-Philippi (Emerson College), and Martina Balestra (Cornell University) compiling literature from a range of disciplines that help identify how the growing digital landscape is forcing a reconsideration of the traditional roles of civic actors, institutions, and decision-making processes.
From the abstract:
Just as the rapidly evolving landscape of connectivity and communications technology is transforming the individual’s experience of the social sphere, what it means to participate in civic life is also changing, both in how people do it and how it is measured. Civic engagement includes all the ways in which individuals attend to the concerns of public life, how one learns about and participates in all of the issues and contexts beyond one’s immediate private or intimate sphere. New technologies and corresponding social practices, from social media to mobile reporting, are providing different ways to record, share, and amplify that attentiveness . . . Rather than try to identify what civic media tools in the midst of such an array of possibilities (by focusing on in depth examples or case studies) going forward we will instead focus on how digital tools expand the context of civic life and motivations for engagement, and what participating in civic life looks like in a digital era.
We present this literature review as a means of exploring the intersection of theories of human behavior with the motivations for and benefits of engaging in civic life.