Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Social media, Haiti, and the easy way out

I'm working on the eighth in my "observations" blog posts, but it's like pulling teeth and is taking a long time (you'll find out why soon). But here is another issue that has been grating at me lately and I find I can't keep still any longer.

Okay. If I see one more news article or blog post saying "Isn't it wonderful that two million people have texted ten dollars each to help Haiti!" I'm going to throw up. Isn't it awful that two million people have texted ten dollars each to help Haiti? This "confirms the value" of social media? I'd say it does the opposite. How many of those two million people followed up that ten dollars with more? Or did it give them an easy way out, a quick button press and you're off the hook?

Look, folks, anyone fortunate enough to have a device on which they can instantly send money halfway around the world (and who is not eight years old or unemployed) can afford to give more than ten dollars. Here's an algorithm for social media giving. What did you pay for that fancy gadget you are using to send the money? If you chose any "extras" you didn't need, like getting it in pink or adding that snazzy pleather holder, make sure to consider that. Take at least ten percent of the total. Now, if the people you are sending the money to cannot imagine owning such a device, double it. Then, if the people you are sending the money to have been waiting for three days to get their broken legs looked at, why not think of doubling it again.

Come on, people! Let's stop patting ourselves on our backs for doing nothing! What a bunch of Marie Antoinettes we are. If social media worked for social good, why did Haiti get into this mess to begin with? Geologists have been lamenting to a deaf world about this earthquake for years, but nobody listened when something could still be done. What I've heard is that people are showing up with temporary relief equipment, and the Haitians are finding it better than what they had before the quake. Essentially, our inflatable hospitals are better than their real hospitals. If this event doesn't wake people up to the horrendous double standards we live under, nothing will.

So, here is some unsolicited advice to the people setting up the donation lines. I know you are trying to reach people who don't give, but set your sights a little higher. People pay ten dollars for two slices of pizza and a Coke. Ask for at least the price of a fancy pretty movie about poor different-skin-color people being exploited. (I was planning to see Avatar, but until I hear half of it is going to Pandora, oops Haiti, I'll pass. This site shows contributions by governments to Haiti as Avatar minutes. The US government's donation of $100 million comes out to six Avatar minutes per citizen, so the sum total of the texting donations is ... well, you do the math. Not so wonderful if you look at it that way. When I looked up Avatar to get the name of the planet and people right, the first result was "The people chose Avatar." Sad but true. If you went to Avatar, good for you. Now help the real Navi.)

Some advice to the people going on and on about how social media has been validated, proven, confirmed, and all that: look at the total, not just the number of contributors. Is the total higher than it would have been? I'm not sure. I wonder if it's lower than it would have been. I'd like to see those statistics before I concur that it has been a huge success.

Some advice to people responding to these give-a-little campaigns: I was poking around reading about charity and Haiti and found the tidbit that Madonna has given $250,000. Just for fun, I looked up Madonna's net worth, and it's about $900 million; so she has given roughly 0.03 percent of her wealth to help with this crisis. Based on a generous assessment of my family's net worth, I've now given about ten times as much as that, and I feel bad enough about it that I'll probably double it soon. I'm sure Madonna gives to other charities and I don't mean to single her out, but - if you don't want to go by how much your phone cost, here's another benchmark. Why not join me in outdoing the material girl? How about one percent of your net worth? Is that more than ten dollars?

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