A few weeks ago, on December 1, a slew of celebrities died, well sort of. Alicia Keyes, Lady Gaga, Jay Sean, Justin Timberlake and other stars offered themselves up for the Digital Life Sacrifice, killing their cyber selves through a blackout on Twitter and Facebook.
It was for a good cause: to raise a $1million for the AIDS charity Keep A Child Alive.
It also got the Demon to thinking, “So let me get this straight, Lady Gaga won’t tweet again until the money is raised?” Something felt wrong about this – it lacked imagination.
What do I mean by that? Let’s begin by considering a point made by JK Rowling in a speech at Harvard. She talked about a time when she worked for the Amnesty International Office in London.
“Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet…Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds; imagine themselves into other people's places.”
Imagination, that was JK Rowling’s point. "We do not need magic to transform the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have power to imagine better." And that, I believe, is the power of Amnesty International: they call on us to imagine, empathize and act.
This point-of-view stands in stark contrast to the gestalt of the Digital Life Sacrifice. That event, as near as I can tell, did not challenge people to imagine much beyond a day or two without tweets from their favorite celebrity. For that reason, this effort felt strangely disconnected from, and without empathy for, the very people in need of help; it felt like a failure of imagination.
Of course, Alicia Keyes and her colleagues were acting with the noblest of intentions for the worthiest of causes, but I would challenge them in the future to challenge our imaginations a bit more.