I saw this TED talk a couple of days back and posted it on my Facebook account. But it stuck with me over the days since I first saw it (and not just because I’m attending TEDxNJLibraries at the end of this week). Because as much as I work with using blogs, email, Facebook and Twitter to promote my work and connect with other people of similar mindsets, this talk really made me think about how much of advocacy comes back to the personal connection. Whether it is face to face discussion, the pencil or pen written word, or a craft made with one’s own hand, there is still so much power to those objects and encounters in which time is invested.
Don’t get me wrong. The internet is a powerful communication tool. With Capwiz, email lists, Facebook groups, Twitter tags, message boards, and chat interfaces, you can move an idea or concept or call to action very quickly from your desktop to hundreds (if not thousands) of people within your digital reach. There is still a disparities between internet action and real world action. If someone got 10,000 people to send an email on behalf of libraries, that’s a lot, right? But how does it compare to 10,000 people writing a letter? Or 10,000 people protesting library cuts? The physical presence of the number of letters, nevermind the number of people, provides an assertion of purpose that the email cannot (short of causing an email server to crash, but again, that’s something physical in the act of failing). In the end, the internet is just that: a communication tool.
I’m sure there are people who are reading this and saying, “Yes, but XYZ did this and stopped land development/saved a little girl with cancer/made a government think twice”. My contention is that the majority of those types of online campaigns are merely the exception, not the rule. It tapped into the right kind of public outcry, but I’m willing to bet most cases had a physical “I-called-the-office-of-the-[insert title here]-to-complain” type of component to it.
My overall point is that human beings put greater meaning and value onto things in which we know other people invested their time and talent. As much as we try to direct people to websites, Facebook groups, and preprinted postcards, we should always be working towards that Holy Grail of Advocacy: the person who take time to communicate something personal on behalf of the cause of the library.