Digital Divide, Hurricanes and Disaster PR

Right now, we are witnessing one of the most mind bending times, something that might leave an imprint in the national history on par with 9-11. We are witnessing the after-effects of a devastating natural disaster, and that the Hobbesian state of nature sometimes does occur when government does fail its citizens.

One of the most interesting things that seems to have been glossed over is that this is the best example of the digital divide. As Richard Edelman has pointed out, this is a clear example of blogs and Wikis and the new media failing. Why? Because the people abandoned in New Orleans are the ones on the other side of the digital divide: the poor, the unrepresented, the forgotten. Those people that we pretend we don't see when we pass them on the street, ignoring their pleas until it's too late and we cannot ignore them anymore. Now is a time were we cannot ignore them anymore.

Now, the Blog A-list are swooping in to play the saviour, in a somewhat patrionizing way. They are putting up Red Cross banners and bookmarks, writing about what is not working and what is working, writing about the great evil federal government (or how great it's doing), and offering solutions.

It reminds me of the line from "A Few Good Men": I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.

Less talk, more action. While we can sit in front of our computers, and pontificate on what can be done, there are people that are out there doing good deeds with their hands and hearts - truly getting their hands dirty. There are people out there donating what can be donated, there are people opening their homes for the displaced.

Which leads me to another point. Right now, we seeing a lot of press releases or blog posts about companies donating money and time. In times of disasters, actions speak louder than words. While these companies should be commended for donating, what is the value of putting out a press release? Have a message document ready, if the press does ask what you are doing. In the rare instances, like if you are a company that tends to be attacked for everything (Walmart), yes, you do need to put out a press release announcing what you are doing for the people in the area. Otherwise, reading about your donation on your blog or a press releases makes me wonder what the PR strategy besides "me-too" might really be.

And, while New Orleans is getting the bulk of the press, let us not forget the other victims in other states. Let us not forget how this disaster first impacted states from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, and now will impact many more due to the relocation of half a million people. Who, really, is looking after them? While we will might forget this storm in two or three weeks, like we seem to do all others, there are people that will live with scars forever.

When all is said and done from this great storm - and the storm of activity online - the folks on the "other side of the tracks" will likely only gain one thing from A-listers: they'll inherit their wind.

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10 comments

  1. You're not being patronizing here?
    And just what is your action?

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  2. I couldn't get blogger's identity to work. The post above is from Jeff Jarvis.

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  3. I hope I'm not being patronizing - I'm just trying to say that writing about the disaster isn't enough, but that we need to move beyond discussions into action, any way possible.

    My action - well, I did donate money myself, and I put up my links like every other blogger. I do know one displaced person, and trying to send him work from other freelancers / consultants, to help him start-up again, and thinking of him whilst I am writing proposals right now, to be able to send him work. No, I haven't blogged about it, but others have; instead, I'm using my network to email people direct.

    What would I like to see? Instead of just problems, how about solutions. What can the top bloggers do? All the technology in the world doesn't mean a hill of beans when there's no infrastructure left and the people can't access the Internet. Someone from one of those top blogs emailed me about getting 100 bloggers together to do more - do what?

    There's a need for money - how about the big networks donate x percent of ad sales during the month of September? There's a need for jobs - instead of posting about jobs, and Websites that have job listings, how about getting the information to the people themselves? There is so much that can be done, but is it? The conversation is good, but what are the next steps?

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  4. I totally identified with you when you said we need to be "more action less talk". I agree that just posting a blog (which I did like so many others) about the event just isn't going to help nor solve the problem. I feel like we probably should have stepped up to the plate and done more for the poor in those areas well before now. Having grown up in Slidell I feel connected and partially responsible for not reaching out when we had time. However, the other side, the bloggers who jump at the chance to say anything and let people know they are helping. I can't help but understand this side too. Like many I am trapped between wanting to make a difference and being able to. Yes, I too have donated money but is that enough? Most people would love to do more but with everyday life that you can't just run away from, what more can the average person do but vent our collective frustration and need to help via the largest means of communication. Maybe the victims won't read every post about their city, but I assure you someone will and maybe it'll spur those who can help into action! After all isn't knowledge power. (For many this is the only way they are aware of the true needs of the people.)I have to hope that maybe some of the "me to" people as you called them might really wish to show the country there are those who still have goodwill when so many are pointing fingers and refusing to take blame. (However I am not naive enough to believe this is true in every case.)All in all I thought what you had to say was insightful and not at all patronizing. I just wish more people had the view of "more action, less talk" and we wouldn't have half the mess on our hands we currently have!

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  5. Here is a perfect example of Web 2.0 doing, instead of talking.

    Via Adrants, I found this post on Displaced Designer, which is offering shared office space for the evacuees who are in the design world.

    That to me is cool - offering space so people that are independent contractors can find a space to work, including computers and phone lines. That's Web 2.0 working together for a greater good.

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  6. Thanks for stopping by Tyler. I understand that when people feel at a loss - that they can't do anything - that writing is cathartic. And, that is fine.

    But, all the writing isn't going to do much. All the meetings aren't going to do much. We have seen that already with the local and federal governments just talking and playing the blame game - it doesn't do much.

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  7. I agree that this is an obvious example of a digital divide. I think it is also saddening that this was obvious before the devastations of Katrina. But, that is far beyond my control. I think that what matters now is that people are doing something to help the victims of Katrina. I
    don't necessarily think that one way of helping these people is better than the other. If someone can help them one way and another can help by just writing about it than at least they are both doing the most that they can. I think that if you could do a lot more than you are that you should but there should be no reason to judge someone else's contributions because like Tyler said, you just don't know what is going on in their lives as well. I admit that I have felt guilty just giving money and writing about the events. I would love to do much much more. I read everyday about people taking family members and friends into their homes and these people don't know if they will ever go back. There is so much that is depressing to me about the entire situation but I was amazed to see that people who had the technology to blog used it to their advantage. It was comforting to know that this was available to them since there was no other form of communication. I also have read some of the press releases about companies that are talking about what they have donated and
    what they are doing to help. Honestly, my first thought was that it was good of them to reach out to these people and help immediately. Right now, if these companies are being selfish in a time like this I think it will come back on them in the end. I just hope that they are not being
    selfish by publicizing their efforts because I think that this is definitly the wrong time to be. I do agree with your paragraph about "actions speak louder than words." I think that if a company is doing something they will be recognized for it eventually but that they should
    have a release ready if the press asks for it. I thought this post
    was a good post even though it is saddening to me that these are obvious truths.

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  8. I think that something a lot of people are forgetting is that not only “poor people” but people with money lost everything they had too. While I do agree that these people on “the other side of the digital divide” are highly unrespresented I don’t agree with those that are pointing fingers and placing blame. There’s no doubt there should have been much more done by FEMA and other governmental organizations, but the truth of the matter it that the hurricane wasn’t President Bush’s fault. Likewise, I don’t agree with those like Kanye West who was quoted as saying “George Bush doesn’t like black people.” In other words I don’t think that the problems in New Orleans are because most of the people are poor, black, or on “the other side of the digital divide.”

    I do agree that more than likely some of the companies that are announcing their good deeds through press releases on their web sites are merely doing only what they feel they should to be included not because they are genuinely concerened.

    However, if these company’s are donating time and money I don’t think anyone should question or doubt their intentions. After all, it’s hard prove or disprove intentions. At least they are doing something…it’s like Jeremy said at least they’re not just talking about it in “the storm of activity online.”

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  9. I think that something a lot of people are forgetting is that not only “poor people” but people with money lost everything they had too. While I do agree that these people on “the other side of the digital divide” are highly unrespresented I don’t agree with those that are pointing fingers and placing blame. There’s no doubt there should have been much more done by FEMA and other governmental organizations, but the truth of the matter it that the hurricane wasn’t President Bush’s fault. Likewise, I don’t agree with those like Kanye West who was quoted as saying “George Bush doesn’t like black people.” In other words I don’t think that the problems in New Orleans are because most of the people are poor, black, or on “the other side of the digital divide.”

    I do agree that more than likely some of the companies that are announcing their good deeds through press releases on their web sites are merely doing only what they feel they should to be included not because they are genuinely concerened.

    However, if these company’s are donating time and money I don’t think anyone should question or doubt their intentions. After all, it’s hard prove or disprove intentions. At least they are doing something…it’s like Jeremy said at least they’re not just talking about it in “the storm of activity online.”

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  10. But blogs also helped those on both sides of the digital divide. Because of the ease of use of blog software, I was able to set up a blog for Mississippi hospitals to get the information they needed in a matter of minutes. And, amazingly, many had e-mail capabilities before land line access in our state. We could e-mail postings to those that were not able to visit the site.

    The blog: http://mhanewsnow.typepad.com/katrina

    (I am just trying to make the point that sometimes information alone is a service to those who don't have it.)

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