Why are you here?

Posted on: March 5, 2017 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

Why are you here?
No, seriously, why are you right now reading this blog post? Inherent of what is this behavior?  What can you gain by investing a few minutes reading this post?images

I suspect that you visit any number of similar social media sites on a fairly regular basis for…the same reasons as you are here, now.

But why?

Some answers
The list of aid worker oriented social media sites is long, and in a blog post many months ago (“Using the Interwebs: networking and blogging sites hosted by or geared to aid and development workers”) I listed many ‘popular’ sites and offered an answer to the question I posed above.  Here’s what I said back then,

“All [social media sites] serve to affirm, inform, amuse and facilitate networking of all manner and, in some cases, to amplify snarkiness in an echo-chamber fashion. I believe that the sector is well served by these means of communication; the impact is a net positive. As humans we all have a strong need to feel that we are not alone in our experiences, emotions, perceptions and struggles, and on the whole these sites serve in affirming that we are not alone.  A sector that knows itself better can function more efficiently, one might assert. That said, the various moments of ‘vetting’ can get quite snarky at times and can contribute to self defeating cynicism in some cases.”

Indeed, that is the very premise of this blog and the book that came out of earlier posts.  You are here because the short time spent on this page serves to connect you to and to deepen your understanding of your ‘tribe’ or at least to those for which you feel some affinity. Gaining knowledge about those in your real (or aspirational) network can facilitate relationships and bring us together.

Many sites serve as a sounding board for HR related issues (Fifty Shades of Aid), others link together those who share similar ascribed and achieved statuses (AidMamas, Womeninaid, GAYdworker) and some keep us up to date with issues within the sector (Aidnography, WhyDev among others). Finally, there are some that just stimulate our imaginations while offering insightful and often bitingly accurate perspectives on the sector.  We’re looking at you, Evil Genius.

I must add, to be obvious, that all those team house, karaoke bar, and water cooler discussions serve these functions as well.   The two outlets -social media and f2f- are not separate though in many cases social media sites tend to be more “me talk, you listen’ (Aidworkervoices is a good example of this).

Another answer: evolutionary psychology and aid workers
Visiting sector-focused social media sites serves also to feed our natural hunger for gossip.  The premise of the evolutionary imagespsychology of gossip is that in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) knowing the business of others was a social and hence survival advantage, helping us to differentiate between friends and foes, those we can trust and those we can’t.  Wanting to know about the lives of others in our social network is wired into our minds and behaviors.  Though gossip has a bad reputation, it is indeed part of who we are.

So, investing a few minutes in a site called “Aid Worker Voices” seems like a natural and reasonable investment in time.  In any case, I hope you have found some value in this post and in this blog in general.

And that’s all I have for a Sunday evening.  Send me a note if you have comment or thoughts.  I’ll feel affirmed if you do.



Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarians sector with 'Confronting Toxic Othering' published in 2021 and 'Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector' in 2022. A revised edition of 'Confronting Toxic Othering' will be out later in 2023.

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