The disasters of the world have been opening our minds, and an otherwise divided country truly shows how united it can be in the face of adversity and strife. As technology improves, also does the willingness of people to help with donations towards the repair and recovery of disasters. An interesting phenomenon has occurred. Does technology actually improve our willingness to help others? Alternatively, is it simply removing the barriers from those who “cannot be bothered” with donating because of various reasons?
We know that the donations to reputable sources like the American Red Cross gets to people who need it. The Red Cross is an expert at the logistics of transporting and delivering medical supplies to affected areas of the world. When donations are made—especially in the immediate aftermath—the Red Cross mobilizes as fast as possible to get the supplies, equipment, and other health resources out to those who need it.
However, we know that already. What is interesting is how the advent of donating via PayPal or text message has changed the face of donating. Before reliable internet-based forms of payment, the primary system for donations was the phone. When calling, donors had to speak to complete strangers, giving out banking or credit card information, verifying address information and confirming the transaction. This long situation is a barrier of resistance for donors—they have to pick up the phone, dial, possibly wait on hold, and go through this prolonged transaction. It is an impulse that is difficult to act on quickly.
When the Obama administration made changes to upgrade and streamline the Red Cross’ text messaging system, the response that came from the Haitian earthquake was amazing. By simply texting a single word to a 5-digit code—far less than everyone does on his or her cell phones in any one use—a $10 donation is made. Within a week, according to the New York Times, the Red Cross had garnered over $22 million from text messages alone. The Red Cross spokesperson, Roger Lowe, said that what had happened was beyond description. He stated that words such as “unprecedented” and “amazing” were unable to capture the pure astonishment of the situation that occurred with the donation system.
Some analysts say that the easier it becomes to simply swipe a card or send a text, the more money people tend to spend. It has nothing to do with us wanting to spend more, it just becomes more difficult to resist the urge when it is almost nothing to accomplish. While donating to the Red Cross is an amazing thing, one has to wonder how much of it is ease of use, and what potential abuses of manipulation a system like this can suffer.