I won’t mislead you. I’m about to write about an issue you’ve heard about all week. One that many bloggers have already weighed in on. But, one, too, that continues to interest many of us. So, I’ll start like this:
It’s Sunday afternoon. What better time for a little preaching? Friends, choir, let’s talk about the power of social media.
For my readers who are not addicted to the happy little crack-stream of Twitter, I offer this brief preface:
David and wife Belinda were moved to help. They took Daniela into their home and set about raising money for her new life. With the humblest of words, David asked his social network to help, calling on us to raise $5,000 to help her start over. And, we answered. Over 500 of us. Raising not only $5,000, but $16,000 in a matter of hours.
(For more, read Business Week's summary)
Since this huge outpouring of support, bloggers have been doing our thing – commenting, deconstructing and critiquing the effort. Some say David made good use of his social capital, others say he should have stopped at $5000 or given the overage to an organization fighting abuse on a larger scale. At least one blogger said this disproportionate benefit to one person is unfair – that our money is better spent on attacking the root causes of social problems. An interesting point. But, one that I would counter.
Not long ago, my friend David Griner started a presentation on social media with the provocative question “how did things get so detached?” Meaning that with all this typing and surfing have we become disconnected?
I think the opposite is true. If anything, all the typing has reconnected us. It was the nuclear family of the 70s, the cul de sacs of the 80s and the ladder climbing of the 90s that divided us. Each in our own enclave. Living separate lives. Sure in our judgments. Able to cast a cold view onto a world of “others.” We exchanged phone calls, Christmas cards, invitations to carefully-planned parties.
Social media gave us an entirely different look into one-anothers lives. The New York Times calls this new vantage ambient intimacy:
This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, …
For all the banality of the life we live together online, it actually makes us more real to each other. Gives depth to us as people. Creates empathy and connection. It kicks us off of our perches and demands that we see each other as we are. What David did, what we all did with him, is perhaps a sign of that change.
Most of us believe that we owe something to the world around us. We help one another by throwing the occasional $100 check in the greater-good kitty, attending a well-catered fundraiser or letting the United Way take a few bucks out our paychecks.
Rarely do we look into the eyes of someone whose basic needs are unmet and say – how can I help?
In short, we abdicate our right and our responsibility to personally change lives. We believe it’s not ours to do. Rather, the work of people who answer a greater calling. The sort of thing that can only be done with pooled resources.
But, of course, we can do more. More small things. More micro interactions.
And, maybe, just maybe, social media will make this behavior more prevalent. Not for the big gestures – like David’s barnraising for Daniela – but in the changed mindset. The one that makes us more real to one another. More deserving of compassion and consideration and a chance. A mindset that recognizes that writing a check matters in the changing the world, but so does taking action to change one person’s life.
A new social safety net born of social media? You never know.