The Internet Has Made Us Lazy

I like to complain about the state of communications – generally, and especially online. There is a ton of content flowing online — but most of it is not worth consuming (and certainly not worth paying for). There are millions of organizations requesting donations and demanding action — but very few people participating and far from enough meaningful, measurable impact resulting from whatever activity is generated.  And though everyone talks about the transformational power of the internet, society, for the most part, seems to be largely operating as it has for a long time.

I know change is slow and that lots of things have are different about the world we live in now as a result of the impact that the internet and technology have had.  At the same time, I also feel like we have let the internet, and technology, change the way we operate and communicate – and not all for the better.  In fact, I think the internet has made us lazy.

There is an article in this morning’s Washington Post about how Facebook Causes, one of the darlings of the nonprofit world, simply doesn’t live up its potential as a fundraising tool.  The article begins:

It seems foolproof: nonprofits using the power of the Internet to raise money through a clever Facebook application. After all, the Web earned gobs of cash for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. And besides, going online means sending fewer fundraising letters, which makes it appealing to penny-pinchers and environmentalists alike.

I will save my comments about Facebook Causes for another time (though I have many, and have thought long and hard about why it has failed to help nonprofits in a signficant way) — and I encourage you to read the article and think about why nonprofits are not benefiting from Facebook Causes as much as they could/should.  Regardless, whether its Facebook Causes or something else, that one simple paragraph speaks volumes – nonprofit organizations, and all of us I fear, assume that the internet is simply going to do the work for us.  If we build it they will come.  If we are putting ourselves online, we will be successful.

That is simply not true and thinking that way has gotten us into trouble.

Organizations send millions of emails but settle for ridiculously low open rates.  People sign petitions online every day, with one click of a mouse, but those petitions rarely (if ever) change minds or impact the outcome of a vote. Organizations raise millions of dollars online, to cure disease or address hunger, but while the organizations and their reach grows, those problems and many others seem more intractable than ever.  I can go on and on and on.

Because we can use the tools that are now widely available online to conduct campaigns, and send notices, and raise awareness of issues – more efficiently and cost effectively than ever before — I think we have lost sight of what real impact looks like, how to change behavior, and how success should be measured.  We’ve settled for low open rates, and dollars raised, and names on an email list, instead of demanding more from our leaders, and ourselves, and working harder to make things happen.

That’s right, I think the internet has made us lazy.  Technology didn’t cause this problem and it won’t fix it – no application or widget is going to improve our communications or drive more meaningful, measurable action.  That’s on us.  So, get off your couch and make something happen (online or offline).  Go!

Brian is Managing Director of little m media which provides strategic guidance and support to organizations around the use of the internet and technology to facilitate communications, engagement, education, and mobilization.

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