This is a little like how I've been thinking about generosity. We associate generosity - especially in the U.S. - with charitable giving to nonprofits. Everything else - volunteering time, giving to politics, direct gifts to neighbors or friends or others, mutual aid, remittances, shopping your values, investing your values - those things are all something else.
And, yes, the motivational and behavioral mix for these actions may be different. But we make a mistake when we center the one - charitable giving - and shift everything else to the edge and think that's based in human behavior. It's actually based in politics and industry.
In the U.S we've built an infrastructure of organizations (nonprofits) that take up a lot of space in the generosity mix. And we make them register with the government which allows us to count them. And we require them to report certain actions which then allows us to track giving to them. Those decisions were political - and have to do with values like accountability and association and expression.
On top of those registries and reports we've built big systems and organizations to make sense of the information. Some of those institutions (Foundation Center) were built as an industry response to possible regulation. Some of those institutions (Guidestar) were built because there was a huge data set of nonprofit tax forms that existed by the 1990s. These data sets served as the "lights" that helped us "see" specific behaviors. It wasn't that other behaviors weren't happening, it's just that there weren't lights shining on them.
Shining a light on these behaviors was done to better understand this one type of generous act - it wasn't done with the intention of judging the others as lesser. But over time, all the light has focused on charitable giving to nonprofits making it seem like the other behaviors weren't happening or were less important, just because the light was not shining there.
The more the full mix of behaviors happens on digital platforms, the more lights get turned on. Where it is hard to track a gift of cash to a neighbor in need, crowdfunding platforms that facilitate such exchanges (and credit card trails) bring light onto those actions. And because more and more acts take place on digital platforms - Facebook claims to have moved $1 Billion in last year - we can now see them better. The digital trails are like shining new lights on old behaviors.
Think of it like a house of generosity. In one room are donations to charitable nonprofits. In the USA, the lights have been burning bright in this room for decades. In another room is contributions to houses of worship. Down the hall is the room of money to neighbors/friends in need. Another room is where shopping for some products and not others happens. Downstairs is investing in line with your values. There's a room for political funding and and one for spending time rallying around a cause. Other rooms hold remittances or cooperative funds or mutual aid pools. As each of these behaviors shifts to use digital platforms - be it online portals, social media, texting, or even just credit card payments - its like turning on the light in those rooms. We can "see" the behaviors better, not because they're new but because the digital trails they create are now visible - the light is shining in all those
Digital trails shine lights on lots of different behaviors. We can see things we coudn't see before. It's going to be increasingly important that we have public access to data on what's going in the whole house, not just certain rooms. Right now, the data on many of these behaviors is held in closed fashion by the platforms on which the transactions happen - crowdfunding platforms know what happens on them, Facebook tells us what happens there, and so on. We're dependent on the holder of the light to shine it into certain rooms. This isn't in in the public's interest. Having the lights turned on is better than being in the dark, but having public access to the light switches is what really matters.