Flame wars and Haitian philanthropy

$3 million in relief funds via texting proves that new technology enables grace, as well as boorishness

Topics: Haiti, Paul Shirley, Natural Disasters, How the World Works,

Flame wars and Haitian philanthropyDisplaced Haitians walk the streets amidst collapsed buildings and rubble in downtown Port Au Prince Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010, in Port au Prince, Haiti. (Credit: AP/Julie Jacobson)

As of 10:30 a.m. Eastern time Thursday, Americans had donated over $3 million to Haitian relief efforts, according to the State Department, the Red Cross, and various mobile phone operators. The total obliterates previous text-driven philanthropy records, reports MSNBC’s Susanne Choney: in 2005, Hurricane Katrina inspired only $400,000 worth of such donations.

The vast increase in giving doesn’t necessarily mean Americans are predisposed to be any more charitable today than they were five years ago, or that they find earthquake-devastated Haitians any more deserving of aid than residents of New Orleans. The outpouring is more likely a reflection of the emergence of texting as a mainstream cultural phenomenon in combination with the speed with which the State Department helped organize and publicize the mechanism — within hours of the tragedy, President Obama was directing Americans to whitehouse.gov to learn how they could help.

As cellphones become ever more entrenched as our indispensable interface to the networked world, this kind of smart-mob philanthropy will only increase. It’s hard to imagine anything that takes less physical or mental effort than texting a five-letter word to a five-digit address. (HAITI to 90999). (Why, it just took me seven seconds to do it in between writing the last sentence and this one.) You’d have to be pretty lazy, or pretty flint-hearted, or pretty destitute not to do it. You don’t need Internet access, you don’t need a computer, you don’t need to tell your credit card number to anyone … you just need a cellphone.

This is a classic case of digital, networked communications technology making an aspect of our lives easier than it has ever been before, and I think it’s worth cherishing as the beneficent flip side to some of the more unsavory aspects of our always-online existence. As anyone who has ever spent any time reading Internet bulletin boards, or online reader comments, or even just a nasty intemperate e-mail from a friend, is all too well aware, it’s awfully easy to be rude and outright hateful in the virtual universe. It’s just too simple to hit send or press enter without any forethought and spew some very unnecessary bile into cyberspace. Things we would never say to someone’s face roll off the keyboard with ease. Flame wars break out at the drop of an online hat.



This explosion of cyber-incivility is often bewailed as proof of our increasing digitally enabled barbarism; the Internet, we are told, has corroded something profound in the makeup of society. On the Net, nobody knows if you are a dog, but everyone acts like an asshole. Oh, for those analog days of yesterday, where all employed quills and ink to write love sonnets to each other and spoke only in tones of somber propriety! Where have all the manners gone?!

But this is not a zero-sum game! The explosion of Haitian text-giving is proof that new technology can give a boost to our better nature, even as it simultaneously enables our most prurient impulses. For every flame war, let’s have a virtual food-bank drive. For every nasty-gram, let’s, in some small way, try to help alleviate suffering somewhere. It’s easy. All you need is a phone.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>