Ray Brescia


On his book The Future of Change: How Technology Shapes Social Revolutions

Cover Interview of February 10, 2021

In a nutshell

The Future of Change uncovers the relationships between advances in communications technologies and the rise and success of some of the iconic social movements over the course of American history.

Advances in communications technologies and strategies create what I call “social innovation moments.” The printing press was integral to the American Revolution; the steam printing press supercharged the Abolitionist Movement; the telegraph helped spread word about the Seneca Falls Convention, sparking the Women’s Movement of the 19th century; the Civil Rights Movement and the television were inextricably intertwined.

What I argue is that these advances in communications have created these social innovation moments: times when new means of communicating strengthen the ability of social movements to communicate and coordinate action. What often happens in these moments is that activists, who usually face long odds and significant impediments to success, find themselves reaching for the most modern communications tools at their disposal. They then innovate and use these tools in ways that were not necessarily foreseen.

What is more, the movements not only shape these means of communication, but they are also shaped by them. In one contemporary example of this phenomenon, after the shooting in Parkland, FL, the students there, who were sophisticated social media users, showed a deftness with the medium in their efforts to rally supporters and counter the rather feeble social media efforts of their adversaries. By harnessing this new means of communications, these agile activists took their advocacy to new heights, showing how the medium could serve their efforts in powerful ways.

In the end, the book tries to understand this interplay between social movements and innovations in communications over the course of American history so that we can learn from those successes and emulate them now and in the future, because I believe we currently find ourselves in a social innovation moment—one that requires creativity and inspired action to advance meaningful social change.