The Charitable Humblebrag: Acts of Goodwill in the Age of Social MediaS

There's a silver lining to Hurricane Sandy's destruction: New Yorkers are actually being nice to one another! Not that we're normally not nice; it's just that during times of crisis such as this, you get to see the best side of New York's residents. Especially because said residents are all too happy to tell you about their charitable deeds via the internet. Are we donating more time and money because it's become so acceptable to share how giving we are thanks to social media? Does it even matter?

"...there is a bright spot in the many tales of New Yorkers doing good things post-Sandy — Facebook pages filled with offers of housing and help, tweets and retweets of information for would-be volunteers, donations to charity, people traveling to see and do what they can in more afflicted areas," The Atlantic Wire's Jen Doll writes. "It shouldn't be too surprising that New Yorkers would pull together, mostly, in times of trouble, but it's nice, nonetheless."

I hate to be cynical about the masses of volunteers heading out to the city's darkest regions to help those who are less fortunate, but judging from my social media feeds, these stories aren't just indicative of a "new niceness" — they're indicative of the way social media helps us feel awesome about ourselves when we share what we're up to, whether it's eating a delicious sandwich or seeing Jay-Z live or, let's be honest, donating blood or handing out canned food.

The question of whether we do good because it makes us feel good is an ancient one; it's just exacerbated by all of the new ways we can tell our friends how much good we're doing and how, exactly, we're doing it. And it's awesome to see such actionable results after so many Kony 2012-esque "click and instantly make things better" social media campaigns. If we have to guilt our friends and followers into volunteering to get them to volunteer, by all means, let's do it. But we don't have to give ourselves that extra pat on the back and pretend we're all just really nice and not also kind of showing off, too.

"Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news briefing on Sunday that the city had been inundated with well-meaning people dropping off goods at relief centers, and suggested they give money instead," reports the New York Times in an article about this past weekend's "overwhelming" onslaught of volunteers. But you can't tell all of your friends you donated money; that's so gauche! Instead, the people I follow are live-tweeting their Staten Island visits, Instagramming the supplies they're distributing in the Rockaways, and posting list after list of volunteer opportunities on Facebook.

The latter option makes sense — it's unarguably helpful to know how, where, and what to donate — but what about the people who make it about themselves? Of course I'm more impressed by the people who are tweeting from far, far away, or by those who are sharing the most epic photos of destruction. But I can't help but wonder why they're sharing so many tweets and photos that exemplify how good and giving they are — and feeling irked on an instinctual level. Are they really just trying to let me know how I can best help, as well? Or is there an ulterior motive?

More importantly, though: does it matter? I don't think so. I wouldn't have known the best way to volunteer this weekend without reading people's social media statuses. And maybe I wouldn't have felt as compelled to volunteer at all, if I'm being perfectly honest; it's not like I listened to Bloomberg, either. I hate to think that I was shamed into volunteering this weekend, but I think the proliferation of tweets and photos about disaster relief definitely encouraged my own efforts, even if they weren't the sole impetus.

"Now, if only we could channel that energy and goodwill into the rest of the year, and maybe the next, even when the storm has been out of the news for weeks or months and this time largely forgotten by many," Doll writes. "If Sandy's legacy is that New Yorkers are a little closer, a little kinder, a little more patient and caring and just kind of nice, well, wouldn't that be something?"

It definitely would. What will happen when it's no longer trendy to tweet about volunteering, when it's no longer okay to brag about donating to the Red Cross because everyone else is doing it? Will people still trek out to the Rockaways and other storm-ravaged areas if they can't Instagram it? I really hope so.


New York's New Niceness After a Storm
[The Atlantic Wire]