Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Leave No Trace

It might be called the "movie popcorn problem." How can you persuade people to change their attitude about the environment, when their own contributions to waste that fouls a given area have become unconscious and unwitnessed by others. Just as noone cleans up their own trash in their own seat at a movie theater, because mechanisms against littering aren't in place, so too are people reluctant to take responsibility for their own contributions to landfills, atmospheric emissions, and energy drains.

At Persuasive 2009, there were a number of technological applications designed to change this pattern of behavior. Games such as EcoIsland use the metaphor of the sinking island to conserve, a mode of persuasion that is most powerful when there are others watching. Unlike the rapidly emerging crises that often cause resources to be quickly marshaled, of the kind specialized in by groups like ISCRAM, Jorge L. Zapico pointed out that all too often risk communication is stymied by a slow crisis, auxh as global warming. Zapico proposed that persuasive technologists should be doing more to use mobile phones, pervasive sensors, and social media that are changing communicaiton patters and how we work to intervene in the global crisis. Some forms of personal tracking can actually encourage anti-social behavior, such as Dopplr's "Personal Velocity" feature. After all, who wants to be a duck like the speaker when you can be a lizard like his girlfriend?

Yet social networking allows the possibility of self-monitoring, social comparison, social facilitation, and reduction that emphasizes lack of effort. As Zapico argued, the tragedy of the commons could be broken using social media, even if reducing one's carbon footprint meant not traveling to conferences. Websites like 43 things can encourage environmental goal-setting. Carbon Calc even presents an iPhone application that allows mobile users to see the aggregation of their actions, and the we:offset feature on Nokia phones allows users to pay their carbon offset on the spot. In Canada One Million Acts of Green encourages user-generated content about sustainable living, with the aim of making the normal green rather than the green normal. Principles include social facilitation, reciprocity, social comparison, normative influence, and social learning. As Zampico said, why not consider "the ramifications of easiness in a complicated system."

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