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Thursday Conversation: Assuaging Our Guilt?

May 3, 2012

“There’s this need to believe that social media, the great diversion of our age,  can actually be a force for good. We use global issues like Kony and climate change to distract ourselves from the guilt we feel.” – The Great Sellout

On Tuesday, Facebook announced a plan to encourage organ donation through its website. Mark Zuckerberg proudly proclaimed that Facebook would save countless lives. Dr. Andrew M. Cameron, the surgical director of liver transplantation at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a college friend of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, described Tuesday as “an historic day in transplant.” Late Tuesday, Donate Life California, Facebook’s official California partner, announced a 1300 percent increase in signups from the day before! Even the most cynical Facebook critic has to admit that the company’s power to mobilize its user base is impressive, and the organ donation campaign (even if short-lived) is both evidence of this and a wonderful goodwill gesture.

But is the public’s participation in this campaign another Kony 2012? That is, is it just another way for social media users to feel active and important?

Together, we can stop feeling guilty.

The average American spends over 15 minutes on Facebook every day. Whether users access social media in little chunks or in long sessions, each adds up to a much larger whole (15 minutes a day, 15 hours a month, etc.). Do users feel guilty about all this time wasting? I would argue that yes, people do feel guilty about their use of social media, not least because they know that communication through social media lacks meaning, and participation in things like the organ donation campaign is but one way of assuaging that guilt.

What do you think? Do social media users really feel guilty about all the time they spend on it? Does that guilt manifest itself in “slacktivism?” Share your thoughts in the comments.

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