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World of Science: Twitter+Dopamine-> Donations

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 23, 2010 6:21 am    Post subject: World of Science: Twitter+Dopamine-> Donations Reply with quote

Scott Brown on How Twitter + Dopamine = Better Humans

By Scott Brown April 19, 2010

Man, what a bunch of selfish bastards we are. Gold hoarding abounds. Tea parties rage. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s gospel of self-interest, is outselling The Audacity of Hope on Amazon.com. And trust in the institutions we’ve traditionally relied upon to encourage/enforce philanthropy and its evil twin, redistribution — government, nonprofits, and the church — appears to be at a historic low. What’s more, a recent Pew Research Center poll found that Millennials (the 18 to 29 set, whose lives have been entirely molded by information technology) are perhaps the least religious generation on record, with 26 percent reporting no church affiliation whatsoever.

From a philanthropic perspective, that might seem bad: Americans tend to give twice as much to churches as they give to secular charities. But these same kids are insta-texting tens of millions of dollars to far-off earthquake victims faster than Wyclef Jean can spend it, faster than Justin Bieber can warble “We Are the World,” faster than Bono can bang out a turgid op-ed. For this new generation of donors, pop culture, public discourse, social media, and charity all run through the same router — and speed, not greed, is good. What gives?

We do, it turns out. Heck, we’re wired for it: Our brains release congratulatory hits of dopamine when we engage in selfless behavior — which we’re moved to do the instant we witness something awful. Melissa Brown, associate director of research at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, calls this our “immediate altruistic response.” But, she notes, the IAR impulse is easily blunted by delay: “Generation X and the Millennials don’t want to go through the trouble of entering a 16-digit credit card number to make a $25 donation.”

Luckily, we now have digital tools fast enough to keep up with our inborn empathy trigger. Want to help? Text in some shekels to 90999 and suddenly you’re part of the solution — which, as we now know, feels good on a neurochemical level. In fact, one can easily imagine socio-technological advances knitting us into a kind of decentralized superorganism — a pan-humanity nerve array that senses where it hurts and sends help in real time. Remember that tacky fiber-optic Tree of Souls from Avatar? Well, fluff your brain-braid, my blue brother: It already exists, and it’s growing out of your smartphone.

Harnessing neurobiological altruism could even effect real and lasting change where it’s needed most: celebrity benefit concerts. Consider: The day news of the Haiti earthquake hit, Wyclef tweeted for text donations and millions acted immediately, passionately. By the time benefit concerts featuring Diddy and Pharrell rolled around, they felt tardy and arm-twisty — at least to us impulse altruists who responded to the crisis in real time. More effective is the technique employed by Alicia Keys, who plays footage of needy children at her concerts then flashes a text-donation code to tap her fans’ IAR. It’s pop plus tech equals help. Boomers had the zipless fuck. We have the clickless give.

Of course, impulse altruism has its drawbacks. For one thing, it’s stimulus-dependent, which doesn’t necessarily translate into long-term giving, the brass ring for most charitable organizations. It also means we’re “at the whim of the next media blitz,” Brown says. Without the gruesome imagery and visceral you-are-thereness of unfolding catastrophe, we don’t get our pity fix. (Climate change? Market reforms? Sorry — it’s like trying to get stoned off oregano.) But if what has long been sentimentally referred to as our “common humanity” is no more than a neural sensation with a sell-by date measured in nanoseconds, so what? At least now we have the tech to tap it. Hey, maybe if Atlas had a cell phone, he wouldn’t shrug. He’d reflexively text six bucks to the Red Cross.

...if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there.
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