A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor by Sally Kohn accuses young, technology-oriented Americans of facilitating a false sense of online community activism that doesn’t translate into real-world change.

As a young, technology-oriented American who participates in online community activism, I take issue with Ms. Kohn’s article. She writes that “millennials” (a problematic term for a label-resistant generation, as the Washington Post just pointed out) must forgo the computer and meet face-to-face to do any sort of real change. Our cell phones and laptops make us feel connected, she says, but for real collective action, we must ignore them and instead concentrate on being physically present. Ms. Kohn writes: “The American Revolution, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and every significant social change movement in between and since has relied on community organizing, building mutually responsible communities to challenge the status quo.”

Certainly. But viewing technology as the anti-community ignores the crucial role it can play in facilitating those offline relationships. Modern technology is an incredible tool that is critical for social change. As early as 2001, those cell phones glued to our persons that Ms. Kohn disparages enabled a protesting crowd to gather in the Philippines, summoned by text messages. It happened again with the Jena 6 in Louisiana last year.

Modern technology can also cross the boundaries of space and time, allowing us to be activists on our schedule. Sure, as Ms. Kohn argues, “the Internet does not bind individuals in shared struggle the same as the face-to-face activism of the 1960s and ’70s did,” but it enables more individuals to join the fight. Live in a rural area far from any other activists? Your voice can still be heard. Have to work weekends, when activists are going door-to-door in your town? You can still help by reaching out online. Activists don’t need to be in the same place at the same time to mobilize together.

It’s not just the organization that is important, though; having an audience is just as important. Face-to-face activism is only as good as how far you can carry your message. Online, your message can go nationally and internationally, not just locally. Our PetitionSite successes demonstrate the effectiveness of online message dissemination.

Ms. Kohn writes that the abuses from Iraq won’t go away with a click of the mouse. But YouTube videos and blog posts, transmitted across social network sites like Facebook, MySpace or even Care2, bring international attention to issues and force governments to acknowledge problems. The Internet offers a bottom-up approach to news, where sites like Digg, Newsvine, Reddit or Care2’s own C2NN let users dictate what society should be discussing. They bring attention to issues that would otherwise get passed over in a top-down approach.

Online activism certainly isn’t going to change the world without a face-to-face component. To truly affect change, we must balance the two, drawing from the strengths of each. To ignore the benefits of technology as a tool for face-to-face activism and to disparage online communities only sets us back. Instead, I believe embracing technology as one component under the general umbrella of activism is the best option. Instead of suggesting that one is better than the other, embrace a mixture of types of activism to affect the change our world still so desperately needs.

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