I think people have a natural, altruistic desire to help others or to make a fulfilling difference. It’s not totally unreasonable to assume that, deep down, most people are good people—or at the very least, strive to be better.
“I have lots of little things I ‘believe,’ but I don’t actually do anything with them,” said Louis CK in his latest stand-up special. “I like the comfort of having my little ‘believe-ees.’”
I think this effectively describes the majority of people who find one cause or another to “Like” on Facebook, post on YouTube or “tweet” to all their friends on Twitter. This “slacktivist” approach—a portmanteau of the words slacker and activist—mentality is one that has an overwhelming effect on the terminally wired teenager. Support of breast cancer awareness or feeding the homeless, though heartfelt at the outset, becomes another piece of cultural capital that is increasingly how people come to describe themselves-like being an Odd Future fan or knowing every line from Inception. Just like I might gravitate more comfortably to those people who share my interests, I might also be more inclined to befriend those who share my virtual beliefs.
In the 1950s, when President JFK founded the Peace Corps, it became a common quality of the politically-minded college student to take on the world one starving African child at a time. Now outspoken iPhone users can simply watch a video, send it to their friends and, if they are extraordinarily motivated, order a T-shirt to promote whatever casuse(s) they’ve decided are worthy of their clicks. This may be the result of magnified, fad-oriented sensibilities or because passionate observers just don’t know of any other way to contribute their support.
In the grand scheme of non-profit organizations, a dollar from someone with his boots on the ground in Japan after the Fukushima earthquake is the same as the dollar coming from an everyday armchair revolutionary. And this is absolutely fine. Slacktivism’s greatest virtue is its greatest curse: it can bring millions together with a single video while at the same time diluting all the other facts surrounding an issue by oversimplifying a message. The lucrative KONY 2012 sensation is a prime example of a message with good intentions propagated by deceptive means in which facts were blatantly misconstrued and its creators placed more emphasis on aggrandizing the viewer than educating.
The “bystander effect,” a popular explanation for public inaction is essentially the reason that no one tries to step in when a fight breaks out in the hallway (well, for one, a lot of people find school fights entertaining). The more bystanders that are present in the face of an incident, the less responsibility each of them feels about the dangers of that incident. Slacktivism deconstructs that effect by allowing each and every one of us to take as much responsibility as we want and still feel rewarded for what we’ve lended in the way of charity.
Kyle Dunn/Editor in Cheif