Rewarding Disobedience

By Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab

Last March, the day after I participated in a Free Software Foundation protest, I wrote a blog post on disobedience. It was triggered by a question following a panel on the Digital Rights Movement, but actually is something I’ve thought about quite a bit. Over the past months, as it has become increasingly difficult to locate the world’s moral center, disobedience has once again come to the forefront of my thinking: How can we most effectively harness responsible, ethical disobedience aimed at challenging the norms, rules, or laws that sustain society’s injustices?

Today, at the Media Lab’s Forbidden Research symposium, we announced the creation of a $250,000 MIT Media Lab Disobedience award — an award made possible through the generosity of Reid Hoffman, Internet entrepreneur, co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, and most importantly an individual who cares deeply about righting society’s wrongs.

This prize is a one-time experiment that, if successful, we will consider repeating in the future. It will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is excellent disobedience for the benefit of society. The disobedience that we would like to call out is the kind that seeks to change society in a positive way, and is consistent with a set of key principles. The principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. The disobedience can be in — but is not limited to — the fields of scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

This award is a work in progress, which will be further defined during and after the event. Stay tuned for more….