Internet to the rescue!

Andy Rau

Wired is running a story about how websites are being put to innovative use in responding to the Katrina disaster:

With cell and land-line phones mostly down, the web has emerged as a champion amid the wreckage. E-mail, instant messenger and blogs have proven lifelines for communication.

In relief efforts, too, the internet is proving invaluable, as websites have become hubs for putting badly needed goods and services directly into the hands of people who need them most. Where organizations like the Red Cross discourage anything other than financial donations, sites like craigslist allow people to meet up with victims for face-to-face aid. Craigslist users have flooded the New Orleans site with offers of shelter and comfort.

We should probably be careful not to overstate the internet's impact here--in the end, it's the people at ground zero, federal rescuers, and donation-funded relief organizations that will really have to save the day. But it's inspiring and praiseworthy nonetheless. Think for a moment about what is happening with these websites: they're tapping into a vast network of people willing to help, who would otherwise be relegated to just watching the news unfold on their TV sets. Lots of people want to give money to relief efforts (and lots of people are doing so, if reports are accurate), but I think people also have a desire to contribute in a way that feels more immediate and tangible. Using a website to put victims in touch with medical help, or helping people find track down missing loved ones, or offering shelter and supplies through a web board--those feel "concrete" in a way that just pushing a "donate" button doesn't. And they point to an incredible potential for the internet to coordinate emergency responses in the future.

I'm just thinking out loud here, and certainly not suggesting that donating to relief efforts isn't vitally important. This potential feels like something that Christian organizations in particular should note. Who knows--maybe this internet thing will turn out to be a good idea after all!

Topics: Online, Culture At Large, News & Politics, World