Around this time last week, we first heard about the earthquake in Haiti via Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or text message -- through technology and the social Web.
The earth shook in one part of the world. And like no other natural disaster before it -- not the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004, not Hurricane Katrina the following year -- technological advances have allowed us to bear witness to each other. A standard has been set. This is how a Web-connected global citizenry responds to a global calamity. A collective consciousness has emerged, giving birth to what one of our readers call "Global Citizen 1.0."
Note that it's not labeled "2.0," the oft-used vernacular of our social media-driven times. It's labeled "1.0" because it's relatively new, still on its first stage of development. Twitter, after all, is barely four years old; Facebook, at six years old, is a mere first-grader. Imagine if Anne Frank could text. Imagine what Martin Luther King, Jr. could have done with Twitter. In other words, we're still feeling our way through all of this, moving away from a "Me-on-Web" mentality that's all about you and your online presence to a "We-on-Web" ethos that's more about how each of us fit in a larger, growing global consciousness.
"A global citizen is not American exceptionalism -- what the folks like Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson were talking about. It is not ideological. It refers to the fact that you may have either friended on Facebook, followed on Twitter, or exchanged e-mails with people living halfway across the world who you will probably never meet but have formed some kind of connection with," Jerry Weinstein, a writer and former book editor, told me. I met Weinstein on Twitter, after he replied to my tweet. I asked my followers on Twitter early Monday: "As global citizens, have we seen the kind of outpouring -- financial and emotional -- that we're seeing re:#HAITI?"
"I definitely think there has been a huge outpouring of global support and soc[ial] med has increased it," responded@nishachittal.
Added @AllisonWood09: "No & it's really sad that it takes a earthquake to bring us together like this."
In a phone interview, 44-year-old Weinstein continued: "At a time like this, when we're not just seeing the news on TV but also interacting with it online, a global citizen is knowing that, yes, you can help. I've given money, and I did it early on. I gave money because I wanted to tell people online in my network what it was like to give money and how easy it is to give money. Let me tell you something. I felt very odd on Wednesday. I had a very good day. A friend took me out to see 'Fela!' [a Broadway musical]. But then I started thinking about the inexpressible tragedy in Haiti and how somehow I'm connected to it. That somehow there is something I can do and should do."
For some, a global citizen means being one of the countless people who've donated money, many through text messages; as the New York Times reported, $22 million of the $103 million that the American Red Cross had raised by Sunday night came through its text program. For others, a global citizen means joining a Haiti-oriented Facebook group or page, which now number by the dozens. A global citizen means staying on top of the news. Within 24 hours of the earthquake, some 4,150 Haiti-related videos were uploaded on YouTube. That number is now up to 16,900. Meanwhile, the Wikipedia article titled "2010 Haiti earthquake," created just a few seconds after the 7 magnitude struck near Port-au-Prince, keeps growing, attracting more editors and readers. The article was about 2,800 words long and received 168,000 page views on the second day of the disaster, according to Lise Broer, a long-time Wikipedia editor whose username is Durova. As of Tuesday morning, on the seventh day, the 5,450-word article has gotten about 1 million page views, Broer said, "and 49 different language editions of Wikipedia have an article about this earthquake, ranging from Arabic to Vietnamese."
And this emerging global citizenry -- us -- must be asked to remain engaged in the weeks, months and years ahead.
On Friday, George Clooney is hosting a star-studded telethon, set to air on all major channels and produced by Joel Gallen, the man behind the post-Sept. 11 telethon in 2001. How will the telethon effectively use social media and reach out to more global citizens? As reported by the Washington Post, the Clintons -- both the former President and the current Secretary of State -- have a deep affinity for Haiti, the first independent nation in Latin America. How will they -- he at the William J. Clinton Foundation, she at the State Department -- leverage social media in asking for more aid for Haitians? It must be noted that DipNote, the State Department's official blog, has done a terrific job updating and engaging readers.
Fact is, Haiti suffers as we watch, and it will rebuild during our watch.
"Bright before me, the signs implore me, to help the needy and show them the way," reads an old Randy Newman song, which I hope is prophetic. "Human kindness is overflowing, and I think it's going to rain today."
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