Micro-Volunteering: Altruism on Speed

Pornography, like Andy Carroll and lobster, is overrated. With ideas on better ways to spend your online-time this first entry in the ‘Trends’ feature outlines ‘Micro-volunteering’:


How many times a day do you check an online weather forecast when a window is just a few metres away from where you are sitting, enthroned in your swivelling-chair, controlling your vast online empire of updates, likes and posts? Would it be fair to say that this is time wasted? The sane person would surely reply with ‘yes, this is perhaps a waste of some of the few precious seconds available to me in this one life I have’. Your mind then wanders; how better to fill this time? I could go outside, play some football, run my fingers along some railings or even fly a kite. But no, what about my tweets, my blog updates, my tedious work emails? They are not going to update, reply or tweet themselves are they? So the question evolves into; how should I better fill my online time? There is only one answer to this question, and one answer only, and it fails to involve sites with names that sound like, but are not entirely the same as, YouTube, nor does it involve Civilisation V or Warcraft. The answer, my friends, is micro-volunteering.

So what exactly is this marvellous alternative, this pretender to the throne occupied by the king of pornography and the queen of online-gaming?  Well, it is quite simple really: its volunteering, online, in small (some may say micro) chunks. What happens is that an organisation that requires help from volunteers, usually a bog-standard charity, often one of the smaller, under-funded ones, contacts an online micro-volunteering organisation. That online organisation then cuts up the required help task into smaller pieces and posts these small portions of task onto their online database. Budding micro-volunteers then search the database, find a task they can complete, and finish the task. Everyone is happy; the charity has part of a task done, for free; the micro-volunteering organisation increases its audience and appeal; and the volunteer has that warm sense of well-being that’s unlike any other to be found online. And I do mean any other. As the helpfromhome organisation succinctly puts it:

Volunteer your time in bite size chunks, when you want to. Benefit worthy causes to suit your lifestyle, at your own convenience. Dip in and dip out with absolutely no commitment…And, oh yeah, you can do them in your pyjamas!

But ‘How can you complete a task online?’ you exclaim! ‘I can’t ladle soup, dig wells, or wrap-up tins of sweetcorn by using my keyboard can I?’ Well think again, and think digital. Micro-volunteering tasks include:

The concept, having only emerged over the past few years, is developing rapidly. One of its most important advocates are a US group called ‘The Extraordinaries’. Despite having an overly-pretentious name they are nevertheless taking micro-volunteering to a new level; pioneering the use of Smartphone’s to micro-volunteer. That means that the micro-volunteering dress-code is not now limited to pyjamas; you can wear jeans, shorts, and even, god-forbid, a suit. Micro-volunteering is also now attracting interest from government. Those charming people at number 10 Downing Street have included it in their ‘Giving’ ‘Green-paper’ and its fair to say that it’s a win-win situation for the party at Dave’s house that many call the Big Society. Furthermore the concept is also being applied to big-business with websites with names such as the vomit-inducing www.slivers.com outsourcing ultra-flexible work in bite-sized chunks. Contrary to both its name and remit it is not concerned with cannabilism.

So what is the future for micro-volunteering? Well its certainly bright; whenever the words ‘flexible’ and ‘ease-of-use’ appear next to a concept, you can be pretty sure that us lazy humans will fall for it. There are obvious problem-areas waiting to be criticised; what kind of qualifications does a volunteer require for the job? Are you really considering unleashing a spotty, bieber-loving teenager into the heart of the United Nations World Food Programme? Furthermore the fact that it is all done online, with no face-to-face contact, means that the traditional noble pursuit of volunteering, with all of its numerous tea-breaks, is, perhaps, demeaned slightly. However, as long as proper vetting and selection takes place and that it is not seen as a replacement for traditional-black-plastic-bag toting, fluorescent-jacket-wearing volunteering, its surely a good thing isn’t it? As technology develops along its current into-orbit trajectory, micro-volunteering will certainly become even more efficient and effective. It is volunteering for the fast-food culture; it is altruism on speed.

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