Are Online Superheroes Ready to Save the World?

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Award winning research from a Saybrook University alumna shows online communities can harness our best impulses and turn members into "cyber-heroes," able to make a difference.

Dr. Dana Klisanin

Most of the research being done about the internet is evaluating it as a threat. From cyber-warfare to cyber-bullies and cyber-crime, the internet is often seen as a kind of wild west frontier, filled with criminals.

Dr. Dana Klisanin has just received a major award for young researchers by focusing on the way online culture is bringing out the best in people, and organizing them to save the world.

Klisanin, who received her PhD in psychology from Saybrook University in 2003, has identified a new personality archetype emerging in the modern world: the “cyberhero.”

A “cyberhero” is someone who uses the tools available online to identify threats to social and ecological threats and, rather than confronting them personally, organizes a community of online activists to solve them. Instead of setting out on epic adventures to faraway lands and personal danger, the way traditional heroes have, cyberheroes stay home and set off on a virtual journey to benefit others.

This work has just earned Klisanin the American Psychological Association’s award for Early Career Scientific Contribution to Media Psychology, and now she’s taking it to the next level: establishing a way young people can better organize and collaborate as cyberheroes.

“The Cyberhero League,” is a social platform that will enable children to act digitally to help others around the world, while playing games, learning about environmental stewardship, and social responsibility.
It’s set to debut at the World Future Society’s Beta Launch, held in Toronto this July.

All over the world we are confronting challenges that can only be solved by collective effort,” Klisanin says. “As a networked structure the Internet provides us with the best tool we have to harnessing that effort—why aren’t we taking it to a level beyond “Internet activism,” that simply recreates the old tools in a radically new environment?

“My hope is that the Cyberhero League will usher in a new era of interactive media, one that uses media as a tool to expand our sense of interconnectedness with other people and the planet.”

Klisanin is scheduled to receive the APA’s Division 46 (Media Psychology) award for early scientific contribution at the APA conference this August. She is the the Founder of Evolutionary Guidance Media R&D, Inc, a think-tank and creative cauldron devoted to the design, evaluation, marketing, and branding of conscious, socially responsible, transformative media.

Located in San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington, Saybrook University is the world’s premier institution for humanistic scholarship and research. Saybrook offers advanced degrees in psychology, mind-body medicine, organizational systems, leadership, and human science. For 40 years, Saybrook has empowered students to find their life’s work and achieve their full potential. Saybrook’s programs are deeply rooted in the humanistic tradition and a commitment to help students develop as whole people – mind, body, and spirit. Saybrook University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). It is also authorized by the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board and meets the requirements and minimum educational standards established for degree-granting institutions under the Degree Authorization Act.

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Benjamin Wachs