Magic is asking the question “what if this was real?” The audience subconsciously knows that they’re seeing an illusion, but the spectacle of the performance outweighs their doubt. The true art of the magician is capturing the imagination of the audience, and pushing plausibility past the threshold where the simple, obvious solution is diluted by the sensationalism of the unreal possibility. Random audience members have almost always met the magician beforehand. We know this, but we ignore the falseness of the endeavor for the sake of the spectacle.
Similar behavior is witnessed in the forwarding of viral video campaigns. The forwarder, in awe of the sensation being presented by having everyone in their social circle preoccupied with a certain video, entertains the possibility of the campaign reaching a critical mass and effecting real-world change. Sometimes awareness translates into action. However, the motivation for forwarding a viral video campaign is often not related to the actual aims of the campaign itself. Too often, sharing an appealing video is motivated by keeping the dream of positive change alive, rather than creating positive change itself.
It’s a subtle distinction. What’s the difference? It’s managing a problem instead of ending it. It’s feel-good versus do-good. It’s “someone else’s problem, but I’ll do my small part.” Sometimes, posting a video on your wall is a way of ticking a box in your mind, claiming that you’re contributing in your own way, and can very easily be an excuse for actual inaction.
I don’t mean to condemn Kony 2012 (which I haven’t even watched, so profound is my confidence that no real action will come of it). And obviously, sometimes the positive change does occur as a result of the critical mass being achieved. My point is that we have to be careful of our own motivation behind the forwarding of flash-in-the-pan fads. If it seems like the thing to do simply because that’s how people are behaving, and “what if it works?”, then ask yourself if you’ll really care who Kony is a month from now. If it resonates with you in a way that lasts longer than the time it takes to forward it, go ahead.
1. Educate yourself about the trend before you pay it forward.
2. Ask yourself if you’ll honestly be thinking about it a month from now.
3. Look past the spectacle and consider what it’s really worth to you.