Consecrating Your Eyeballs

Gordon’s recent thread at Times and Seasons on corporate social responsibility and institutional philanthropy got me thinking about a charity for which I feel a strange combination of enthusiasm and suspicion: the Hunger Site. In case you’ve not familiar with the site, here’s how it works. Arriving at the main page, you click on a button that says “Give Free Food. Click Here.” Once you click through, another screen appears featuring ads for a number of sponsors. By simply allowing yourself to be exposed to a screen full of advertisements, you donate the equivalent of 1.1 cups of staple food for hunger relief (through Mercy Corps and America’s Second Harvest).

On the one hand, something seems wrong with this–or at least, this seems on the initial gut-reaction level to manifest something wrong with society. I mean, if the sheer abstract possibility that I might buy something can be exchanged for the equivalent of one meal for a starving person, the world is an obscenely inequitable place. (Incidentally, though I have probably visited the site nearly 1000 times, I have only clicked through to a sponsor’s site perhaps on a dozen occasions, and I’ve never made a purchase.) Also, it’s apparently a for-profit site; so, it’s my eyeballs for three seconds minus overhead and profit margin that equals 1.1 cups of food.

On the other hand, this past Saturday visitors to the Hunger Site and its sister sites, the Breast Cancer Site, the Child Health Site, the Rainforest Site, and the Animal Rescue Site, respectively, supplied 85,779 cups of staple food for the hungry; funded 2.3 mammograms for underprivileged women; helped 834.3 children (720.8 doses of vitamin A for disease prevention, 103.4 infant emergency oral rehydration kits, 9.2 maternal AIDS tests, 0.8 eye surgeries or prostheses); protected 547,040 square feet of endangered rainforest; and bought food for 52,194 animals in shelters–all at no cost to any of the visitors to their site.

It seems odd to be leveraging my status as a glassy-eyed, internet surfin’, DSL-usin’, credit-card-havin’ consumer to help the needy. And it certainly doesn’t give me the kind of satisfaction that would make me less inclined than I otherwise would be to take advantage of any subsequent opportunity to perform an act of charity– one requiring some discernible effort or sacrifice on my part. But at the same time I can’t figure out how the results above could be construed as anything other than praiseworthy and of good report. So, I continue clicking daily.

Comments

  1. I read an economics blog called “Marginal Revolution,” and there’s a theme that comes up often: Markets in Everything. This seems to be a market in guilt.

  2. More than a little. It seems like there’s an unspoken tone of resignation to the whole enterprise: it seems to validate all the stereotypes about fat lazy Americansumers. But at the same time, there’s a certain genius in finding a way to tap into that for a good cause. It’s like that junior high experiment, in which you get electricity from a potato–

    http://www.miniscience.com/projects/PotatoElectricity/

    Except in this case, it’s a couch potato…

  3. This makes me really nauseous. It’s clearly a great thing to do, but a sad, sad statement about American society. I wish we could help these causes without resorting to measures like these; but at the same time, I think it’s great. I imagine you were a little conflicted about this too, Jeremy?

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