Saanich’s Erinne Paisley - who rose to national fame in 2015 as Reynolds’ paper dress girl - has published her first of three books in her Popactivism series: Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
The third-year University of Toronto student has deftly spun that 15 minutes of Internet fame in June of 2015, when a photo of her paper graduation dress (made out of old math homework) went viral, and created PopActivism, at popactivism.com. It’s a Twitter account, a video and written blog, a book series, and more, fusing pop culture with activism.
“People underestimate the power of popular culture, especially in academia,” she said. “With the introduction of social media saturating our everyday lives pop culture has more power than ever before. We also have more a part in creating popular culture than ever before.”
Not surprisingly, Paisley, who is studying peace, conflict, and justice, and media studies, says people remember the paper dress story.
“Sometimes people tell me they read about the viral dress story when it first happened - which is always exciting but weird because they feel that they already know me before I’ve even met them,” Paisley said.
At that time, Paisley was already an aspiring activist and had donated the $250 she had budgeted for a ready-made grad dress to Malala.org instead. She then sold the dress for $1,150 and donated that to charity too.
In her first book, Can Your Smartphone Change the World?, the focus is on empowering youth to create positive change through their smartphone and social media. The first book is an introduction to idea, the second book, due out in the spring, focuses on consumerism and ethical fashion while the third, due for the fall of 2018, will focus on feminism.
“The books are designed firstly for a young-adult audience, but the hope is that anyone with a smartphone can gain something from it,” Paisley said.
Too often the social media is labelled as the opposite of empowering, Paisley said, adding that is not a helpful dialogue because social media is not going away.
“We need to be changing the dialogue to be about how we can use social media as a positive tool for change,” she said. “The younger we start this conversation the more we can transform it into this. I trust youth and I know they can solve the most complicated of issues when people give them the space to do so.”
Paisley active beyond through PopActivism. She finished a summer internship in New York with She’s the First, a non-profit initiative fighting gender inequality by providing scholarships to girls who will be the first in their family to graduate high school. Next she’s working on a more personal book with satirical essays about some of her experiences.