I was very intrigued by the latest social media philanthropy trend I saw posted by NPR on my Facebook page—The Extraordinaires, a snazzy, new social media enterprise that delivers microvolunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. The article begins – “Got five minutes? Got a cell phone? Want to do good?” What a concept—weaving volunteer activities into the fabric of your busy, over-programmed day. Interesting concept, but does it make practical sense? When you are waiting at the doctor’s office or in line at the grocery store, might you have time or focus to translate an email newsletter into Spanish—or figure sum-of-the-years-digits depreciation on the purchase of a new copier? I wonder. It’s a great concept, indeed—multi-taking at the highest level of win-win efficiency.
Upon download, I realized the opportunities offered were almost universally photo-related—tagging images for the Smithsonian or cataloging images for the Brooklyn Museum. My mind was racing with other options or opportunities. Still, I was a bit bewildered. The app asked that I describe what I saw—one session asking me to tag what appeared to be 19th century French Genre paintings. Now, I’m thinking this is a bit freewheeling for a museum. Luckily, I took art history in college, but I’m not so sure I would trust the random, crowdsourced public to accurately catalog these esoteric works for posterity. Definite fact-checking and review required, indeed.
As I hit submit, I suspected that it was less about the task at hand, so to speak, and more about the experience. It’s kind of like taking one of those Facebook quizzes. It’s fun and enlightening in a pseudo-informational sort of way, but the value is questionable. However, I was surprised that there seemed to be no data capture—no way of engaging me further after my “micro” interaction. There was just a very cordial thank you for “making the world a better place.” So, the ongoing social media question looms—how do we bring those touched through casual encounters such as an iphone tagging exercise into our cultivation universes?
Extraordinaires co-founder Jacob Colker, 26, says, “We hope people might look differently at that ride on the bus and not just play video games.” He continues, “Microvolunteerism is perfectly suited for the Millennial Generation. They are used to text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, get-in, get-out, instant gratification. For them, going out and cleaning up a park—that’s not necessarily attractive to them.” So, is microvoluteerism the new media equivalent of a one-night stand? No commitments . . . no strings? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned!
I cringe to think the entire paradigm for volunteerism is shifting to micro tasks and instant gratification. I prefer to see this as fresh, innovative concept yet another option to attract “followers” and “fans.” I am reminded of the mission trip my 17-year-old son recently took to northern Michigan. The group of 35 students spent a week renovating a deteriorating campground for economically disadvantaged youth. They built Adirondack chairs, sanded fences, and painted cabins. They got their hands dirty and their hearts engaged. No cell phones were allowed. And, the gratification may not have been instant, but it was most certainly—genuine.
What do you think about microvolunteerism?