A year or two ago, an old friend posted the following on his Facebook page:
WANTED: Participants for a book-loving social experiment. Comment if you want to participate and I’ll send you details. What do you have to do? Buy your favorite book and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you a name and address.) You will only be sending one book to one person. The number of books you will receive depends on how many participants there are. The books that will show up on your door are other people’s much-loved stories.
Being something of a book lover, I thought it was an interesting idea and, thinking that this was an original idea by my friend, decided to participate. I was given the name and address of a stranger and duly sent off a copy of The Magusby John Fowles (haven’t read it? – do!!) along with a short note saying that I hoped they would enjoy it and explaining why it was one of my favourite books.
How many books did I receive as a result of this book-loving social experiment? Um, that would be none. I started to strongly suspect that I wouldn’t receive any when I started to see the above invitation appearing on other friends’ Facebook pages too, at which point I realised that it was just another one of those things that went around Facebook, just like those things that used to go around via e-mail and I am sure go around via every other social media platform out there.
Remember when Bill Gates was going to give you a dollar for every person that you forwarded his e-mail to? Did you ever receive that cheque? Didn’t think so.
In the end, I incurred no great loss from my participation in this “book-loving social experiment” and maybe someone got a nice surprise in their copy of The Magus. I do, however, think of this now every time I receive another invite to participate in some form of “clicktivism”, whether it is liking a page, forwarding an online petition or diving into a bathtub full of blancmange to raise awareness of chronic flatulence.
I remember learning a long time ago that of something seemed like it was too good to be true then chances are it was too good to be true. That once-in-a-lifetime bargain? That sure-fire investment opportunity? That chance to get your book / music / product in front of the right people for just a small fee? Time after time these things are shown to be worthless, just a means of parting the gullible from their money. I strongly suspect that most of these online participation schemes are just more of the same.
If I feel strongly about an issue, I’ll be contacting the people concerned directly and letting them know. If I care about a charity or other cause, I’ll be donating my money or time. Anything else just seems like clicks.
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