How Much Do You Want to Know?


The the last episode of Charlie Brooker’s imperious mini-series Black Mirror aired on Sunday night. It was the culmination of a three episodes that examined the way society has integrated social media, technology and networking into the way we all function – it was a series that has made a hell of an impression. This final episode featured memory which was mechanical, a perfect and searchable recall of all your life, which meant that it was used as a weapon of relationship destruction.

It got me thinking about social media. I’m sure you will have seen the dire warnings regarding seemingly innocuous internet things – articles called ‘Your Facebook account may make you lose your job’ or blog posts about how your retweets can trigger a major political incident.

In the last week or so, the new Facebook profile has been getting a more widespread airing. It’s easily searchable so you can go back to what you first published on Facebook. Many people, understandably, are rather uncomfortable about this. I joined Facebook when I was 16 and my first status (apparently) was this witty little phrase:

[Rowan is] at home

Ah, the precociousness of youth. Unlike the people in Black Mirror, my search through my digital memory made me one thing and one thing only: bored.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who takes the time to trawl through my Facebook account (Timeline is not the fastest thing in the world) to find some embarassing status or picture from when I was a teenager needs more to do. It has very little to do with my professional abilities, it’s unrepresentative of what I’m actually like (online profiles necessitate a certain degree of brevity and tend to encourage people to crack open their dubiously labelled ‘joke’ vault) and, unless I need it for my actual job, it’s none of their business what I get up to in my personal life.

Of course, networking, and the integration of social media into that process, is a very useful thing to be good at. Taking multiple platforms and multiple accounts is vital for people who want to reach a larger audience for their blog or who are looking for a job or who are involved in online communications in some way. As I have written about before, being social media savvy is incredibly useful in all sorts of ways.

But what about for the third sector?

It has been noted that the British public is remarkably generous. What is also very interesting is that, despite the enormous amount of hand-wringing that goes on amongst international development professionals/observers/academics, no one is ever going to be as interested in knowing about what makes certain development projects good and others bad as they are. People who donate £2 a month don’t want to have to think about who the best person for the project might be they want to hear about a problem, look it up then donate money to people who can help to fix it. This is the overwhelming appeal of coalitions like the Disasters Emergency Committee: a disaster has happened –> here are all the people who want to help –> donate.

But, as Leigh Daynes of Plan UK said at an LSE panel discussion on this topic,

There is very little that is simple about aid and development.

The problem is that, as the world becomes more and more globalised, it, concurrently, becomes more complex. With this added complexity comes and increase in networks.

  1. You can only know and control a limited number of processes because the world is so large and complicated.
  2. Therefore, you need to know lots of other people so you can exercise a degree of control over the processes beyond your remit.

When you apply this to the third sector you see that, as time goes by, the engagement from donors seems likely to become less and less complex as they become increasingly alienated from an ever expanding network of processes which are, in turn, becoming more complex. It used to be that you could send money to the Red Cross or Oxfam and that was pretty much it. Before that, you only had to worry about these things if you were fabulously wealthy. Now, the whole ‘tax deductible charity organisations’ thing has become unfeasibly difficult to get your head around.

What I want to know are some answers to the following questions:

  • How much information do you really want?
  • Do you want to know about the inherent difficulties of development, about corruption, about sustainability?
  • Are these useful narratives for the third sector?
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