I recently met a superhero. Miss Y spends her days driving around the city looking for cold people, hungry people, any people in need. She sits in hospital queues all day waiting for medication for those who are too ill to do it themselves and sources blankets for those who live under bridges. She spends six out of every seven days doing this work, and not one of the charities she helps contributes to her expenses. Her pensioner’s income takes care of that.
Miss Y is 70 years old.
Her heart condition frequently leaves her exhausted, but it rarely keeps her home because she’s a superhero.
It puts all my online ranting and railing about social justice into perspective. As a writer, I’m the last person to call words useless, but Miss Y is a living example of how lazy I am about my causes. If I spend three hours a week on them in cyberspace, I consider myself productive, and if anything I do actually helps someone, it’s the exception, not the norm.
The internet has given me a false sense of usefulness. Obviously, there’s a study for that because there’s a study for everything. In this case, researchers found that internet slacktivists are less likely to contribute to real world causes., and that’s certainly true for me. Before the internet existed, I donated far more time to NGOs. Now I do it in text because then I don’t have to leave my desk, but seeing all that Miss Y achieves in just one day makes me wonder if I’m spending my time wisely.
Another study (didn’t I say there was a study for everything?) found that slacktivism improved attendance at protests. This year, I attended a protest and signed several petitions to get our psychopath of a president to step down. Guess what the result was? Sweet fuck all, but we sure had fun on march day. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a street party and our protest because we definitely didn’t mean business.
Protests have been behind some of the most important changes in history, so I can’t dismiss their usefulness, but then I see Miss Y’s car leave the garage promptly at 10 am. I see her get bitten by the dogs she helps and furious at the people who refuse to help. It makes my armchair activism look a little silly.
Internet engagement turns protests into movements. This is a good thing, but compared to Miss Y, that retweet seems so damned empty.