The Declining Cost of Doing Good

One of the things that makes me optimistic about the future is that as technology progresses, charity should become dramatically less expensive in terms of both time and money. I base this assumption on the fact that historically almost all goods have gotten both cheaper and more convenient, and I don’t see why charity should be any different.

Imagine you are watching TV late at night and one of those ads comes on imploring you to help feed some child in Africa for just five cents a day. If you are like me there is a strong chance you might just change the channel and pretend you never saw that ad. Sure, the deal being offered is good: just five cents a day and you could dramatically improve someone’s life. But on the other hand, it’s just one kid out of billions—hardly a dent in terms of global hunger—and if I do decide to follow through then I am going to have to momentarily stop what I am doing, dial some phone number, maybe go to a website, and then, worst of all, I’ll actually have to take my credit card out of my wallet and type in all the numbers listed there—oh, what a chore!

Does this make me a terrible person? Maybe. But it also makes me human, and fairly typical of humans in general. If it weren’t so easy for humans to ignore the plight of others far away, then we would probably live in a far more equitable world.

Now imagine instead of one kid, it’s 1000 kids. And instead of five cents a day it’s five cents a year. That deal is starting to get pretty hard to ignore. Imagine also that some startup company has solved the micropayment problem and established a widely adopted standard for sending money. Imagine I don’t need to reach for my wallet; I don’t have to log in anywhere; I can just look at the TV and blink my eyes, and this will signal my augmented reality glasses to go ahead and send payment, no extra hassle necessary. Perhaps my payment will also be followed by a satisfying video game sound effect and an icon showing me I have just earned 1000 “points”.

All of which is to say: even in the face of a potential bad future where work is increasingly hard to find, where government fails to provide for people, and where access to helpful technologies is needlessly restricted by intellectual property law and digital rights management—even in a future run by sociopathic elites who could care less about the rest of us—even then there is hope that the masses will be alright. Because as lazy and solipsistic and selfish as people are, I’m convinced that if technology makes it cheap and easy enough, growing numbers of average people around the globe will simply choose to help each other out. Because at that point, why not?

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