After months of research, interviews, discussions, contemplation and self-reflection later, I formulated a final project. Here is an attempt at articulating my entire process in a single post.
PROJECT IN A SINGLE SENTENCE
@EarthChurch1 is an attempt to use art and technology to preach climate change to Christians and try to normalize conversations of the environment in a religious context.
Liberalization and bifurcation of popular media has created a great divide in the United States. People have started aligning themselves with either of two major ideologies, democratic or republican. And an alignment with either is not only a political conformation, but an adherence to everything that is prescribed by the leaders of that one political ideology.
This has triggered a cultural movement of conservatives with republican beliefs who have found the freedom to completely disregard issues of the environment. However, the same people are also outrightly religious and believers of God. And religion has always been closely tied to Earth and fellow human beings, animals and flora. This presents us an opportunity to use the narrative of religion to preach climate action. Reasons being:
1. Pontification over information – People are not very receptive to information. To a lay man, digesting statistics and figure is more difficult than digesting provocations. The recent election only helps testify this claim. They need directions, and not the coordinates.
2. Obligations over options – Religion advocates morality. And morality brings advocation, shame and virtue. Taking advantage of religion, to give people a moral environmental compass to maneuver their daily actions and beliefs. If not done so, there’s guilt of the conscience.
3. Of human empathy – Religion prescribes empathy for fellow beings. And climate justice is not only justice for the environment, but also justice for the poor facing the consequences, the animals that are approaching extinction, and the trees that are being deforested by the hundreds.
Conservative Catholic Christians would be primary population that this project will try to address.
Twitter – Twitter as a medium, has been witnessed driving a mass number of people to affirm and propagate a certain ideology, political party or even a joke.
Meme – Visual medium is much easier to resonate with compared to lengthy sermons. Also, memes are easily shareable and already have an established presence on the internet.
Language – The language is heavily inspired from the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change. The language has to be religious, empathetic and sermonized. Mockery is not an option.
The idea is to use empathy to resonate with the pre-established beliefs of the conservative audience. They have already been alienated from many liberal ideas, due to the binary divide of the country’s population. The topic of the environment shouldn’t be something that is intellectual, liberal or urban. To shift people’s thinking, the first step is to normalize conversations around the shift. To normalize climate action using sermons and religion is what this project seeks to achieve first and foremost.
The first project prototype is set in the form of a twitter bot ecosystem. For this prototype, I have created three twitter bots that tweet about climate change while resounding religious ideas:
- Earth Church (@earthchurch1) – This bot autogenerates memes and tweets them. There are three classes of memes between which it randomizes – though-provocation, empathy for fauna and hope.
- Earth Apostle (@earthapostle) – This bot retweets everything that is tweeted by Earth Church. It also simplifies some memes and makes them more blatant and generalized. The memes generated by this bot aim at being easily shareable and to be shareable in more than one context.
- Earth Missionary (@earthmssionary) – This bot is meant for intervention. It searches for the word ‘God’ on all public tweets on twitter and responds to the original poster with a religious response about the environment. The idea is to directly reach out to Christians who are tweeting about climate change. This bot also retweets everything that is tweeted by Earth Apostle, thus in turn retweeting everything tweeted by Earth Church.
The bots are similar in persona, and differ in their ways of operation. Earth Church posts sermons, Earth Apostle simplifies and retweets sermons and Earth missionary intervenes everyday conversations. Initial testing has proved the missionary bot to be the most successful thus far.
The next step is to:
1. Host the bots on a public server – Right now, I’m manually running the bots periodically. My intent is to host them on a public server and keep them running for weeks, maybe months.
2. Collect data – See which bot is the most successful. Which bot gets the most retweets. Which bot has the most number of followers.
3. Add content – Keep adding different content so that the bots don’t become overtly repetitive and have many images and texts to switch between. Also add smarter responses, so that the bots can contextualize tweets and respond accordingly.
Presently, ,my strategy is to gain a following on the Missionary bot first, and then popularize memes and the other bots through posting directly for the following.
Some of the questions presented after the presentation were :
1. How do I collect data and analyze the performance of the bots?
2. How do I gain better traction?
Some recommendations were to check out the work being done by Sojourners Magazine, On Being Podcast/Blog (suggested by Prof. Nick Hubbard) and Cambridge Analytics (suggested by Prof Katherine Dillon).