Rob Knight

Being better

November 13, 2013

If you haven't yet read Merlin Mann's interview on The Great Discontent, it is a must read. I really love this quote:

Not to get all Catcher in the Rye again, but is there anybody who donates money or volunteers their time without writing a Facebook post about it?

There is so little dignity about how we care for other people. It almost feels like if we don't get to collect a ribbon for what we do, then it's not worth doing. Sometimes I feel like it's really more about personal branding than it is about helping people.

If you want to really help people, then go out and help people. It's like when people say, “Buy this pink yogurt, and a portion of the proceeds will go to charity!" Well, you know what's really great? Donating directly to a good cause and having the entire portion go to charity--and you don't have to act like you're Ghandi because you bought a snack. Just go spend some money on something you care about, then shut up about it: that's a dignified way to be an adult who helps people.

This is something that has been on my mind a lot this year. I've written about the discrepancy between the way someone acts online and the way they are in-person. Previously, it only existed in meatspace. You were different when your family was around than you were with your friends, which is different from you with your co-workers, etc.

We all have this discrepancy. I have it and so do you. The difference between us is the size of this discrepancy. The internet allows this discrepancy to be much larger than previously possible. On the internet, no one can see you lie. So, like Merlin says, you can look like you care because you spend 8 hours each week telling people you do.

And what is alarming is that the satisfaction you get from people who like, fav, and comment when you profess to be caring is enough for some people. Once they step away from the internet, that satisfaction prevents them from actually giving a shit.

We used to be afraid of Second Life, because it was an online world where you could be whatever you want to be. Second Life has never really grown beyond a small percentage of the population. But that is not because the concept didn't work, it's because Facebook took it's place. Think about what Second Life provided to people: the ability to be someone else and interact with different people who match that other person better than your real-life friends. Also, you interact in this world with very little in the way of real-world consequences.

Now you have Facebook, where you can be someone else without much in the way of real-world consequences. So there is an unconscious opportunity to augment your persona professing to care when your real-world behavior falls painfully short.