Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mobile texting moves to Mobile Volunteering

I've written a lot about text giving and its potential for philanthropy. Yesterday, as I noted here, I learned about a whole new role for mobile phones in philanthropy - theextraordinaries (video).

I'll be honest, I'm so old my first thought was "Huh? You can't volunteer in any meaningful way in 20 minutes." Wrong again, old lady (as my son might say). First off, the rep from theextraordinaries caught my attention by noting that "petitions stink" (not his exact words, but close enough). I agree. Signing petitions is a very unfulfilling way to try to make a difference.* So I went over to chat with him. He grabs his blackberry and starts flipping through screen shots of what he was talking about - real possibilities for using the time my time on the bus or at the bus stop for good - I could help identify craters on Mars or comment/edit on a nonprofit brochure. When he showed me the way the system will help nonprofit managers and community organizers think in terms of 20 minute time bits I thought, oh boy, change is coming.

The whole system is built around mobile phones - since that is what the world carries - and so is noteworthy for being a fun, technogical adaptation to the reality of crazy busy lives, short attention spans and desire to do something good. Given that our phones are also cameras and gps trackers, as well as data storage devices and useful for making phone calls - I got this strange feeling that if the technology to make the outreach happen the types of 20 minutes tasks would rapidly proliferate and diversify. They could even be fun and meaningful.

And maybe, just maybe, it will lead to an end of the Market Street Shuffle, in which I dance around/look past/or politely refuse the dozens of petition signers between me and the bus stop and get on with doing something more meaningful.

*I hate petitions for lots of reasons - for example, they mostly serve to put me on a list that generates junk mail, there is no connection to the ongoing process, you never hear back about what happened, they often result in poorly written ballot measures that wind up in court, and they are EVERYWHERE. There are lots of folks who've reached the end of their ropes with petitions and the initiative process here in California. I do acknowledge that petitions sometimes work, especially right now when my immediate fight for my civil rights was made possible by someone else's petition drive. And I understand that because they sometimes work they will continue to be used. That doesn't mean we can't try to improve the initiative process and find alternative ways for people to take meaningful action.

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