Procrastination is one of those vices that sometimes yields unexpected insights. Last week I got to observe my conversion from inert existentialist to armchair fan activist within the short space of five minutes, all because an idea captured my imagination and provided a channel for satisfying my need for existential validation.
At work Friday morning, I clicked away from PowerPoint for a second to compulsively check that nothing earth-shattering had showed up in my inbox. I saw a message from a friend urging me to check out a project her sister was involved in for the MIT Global Challenge—their team was creating a mobile game to pique public interest in supporting clean water provision to impoverished communities. I clicked on the link, not expecting to stay long on the page—I’m a fairly selfish consumer, and humanitarian innovation is alas not my forte. I owed my friend my attention, but I couldn’t guarantee how engaged I would stay.
I scanned down the project page of team Aqua. Videos of the project … a pitch … team bios … project partner blurbs … and comments. I wasn’t seeing the beta version of the game my friend had test played and become addicted to. I could feel my attention starting to dissolve into soft focus—I needed to click on a video, urgently.
A cute cartoon of a game character appeared! I was intrigued. It turned out the character was based on an actual kid in the village they were trying to help. Here was a video of him talking, there was another one showing a peek inside his house and a look down his street.
Everywhere you looked, you couldn’t miss the puddles of dirty water—I wasn’t staring at a photo framed for impact, I was simply seeing water contamination as an everyday fact for the people of this village.
I started getting a sense for where the project was going and why the game would be compelling—not just fun, but effective. The video next showed a demo clip where your game character frantically runs around with a bucket trying to catch raindrops and stock up the village water supply. Catch bird poop and there’s a deduction to your contribution; get stuck with a squid and your speed diminishes.
I was convinced. This was THE project that I wanted to support because I thought it was cool—it harnessed fun for potentially world-changing impact, and I could not wait to tell my friends about it—so they could enjoy it, and of course, appreciate how on-top-of-coolness I was. The activism was bubbling up inside me. I voted for the team and started following them, I emailed my friend back and resolved to document every minutiae of my conversion in a rambling blog post. I looked at the projects of other teams and found myself unwittingly becoming defensive every time I saw something that had garnered more votes or followers to date.
I realized that few things make me feel more significant than the perception of my being vital to nurturing the success of a burgeoning enterprise. It’s a paradoxical symbiosis whereby I’m one of the many that rallies to an initiative and does little more than thumb my approval with likes, dislikes, votes, and follows. But the initiative can only thrive when a collective body of armchair activists like myself (plus some actual doers) perceive themselves to be at the forefront of the movement and do everything they can to spread the word, because being viral agents validates our own existential value while propagating awareness of something we believe to be of actual value.
Game images courtesy of Aqua, MIT Global Challenge team; permission being requested.