The other day I was watching an episode of NY Med, a show on the ABC network that allows cameras into New York City’s hospitals to film everything from groundbreaking medical procedures to simpler every day encounters doctors and nurses experience on the job. At the end of the episode there was an advertisement that came on while the credits were rolling that said something along the lines of “to learn more about organ donation, or to become an organ donor log on to Facebook”. At first I thought I had just heard it wrong, because Facebook is probably the last place I would think to go to if I wanted to become an organ donor. Actually, maybe its not the last place on the list so much as it is a place not even on the list when I think about signing up to be an organ donor.
Out of curiousity, I typed in the words “facebook” and “organ donor” into the google search bar. One of the most recent news pieces that popped up as a result of my search was Ken Terry’s InformationWeek article titled ”Facebook Organ Donation Scheme Fizzles“. It describes what is informally known as “the Facebook effect” on organ donation and explains how social media has the potential to increase the number of registered organ donors drastically.
Terry’s article is a prime example of what Nancy Baym categorizes as “social shaping” when she discusses the four social discourses of new media technologies. The first part of social shaping explains how it is societal circumstances that give rise to these new forms of media technologies. Social shaping also requires the ability to recognize the possibilities and constraints of new media, as well as the need to consider those “possibilities and constraints as they are taken up, rejected, and reworked in everyday life” (Baym). Terry explains how the need for organ donors is enormous and while the most common way of signing up is through the DMV, social networking sites have the ability to revolutionize this process.
While at first it might be a bit shocking, signing up to be an organ donor on a social networking site like Facebook, something that when you think about it is kind of personal. It touches upon the argument that Dr. David Beer makes in the article “Social network(ing) sites… revisiting the story so far” about it being nearly impossible to separate your online life and offline life now because the context of social networking sites is constantly moving into “the cultural mainstream” (Beer) . Additionally, one of the concepts that the video An Anthropological Approach to YouTube illustrates is that social media is quickly redefining our perceptions of “public vs. private” and keeping that in mind, maybe there is too much value in the idea of getting the word out about becoming an organ donor via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, to simply just brush off even if it might seem out of place at first.
One way I see it is like this: Facebook is a site that I visit every day, probably multiple times a day. Whether it is while I’m waiting in line for coffee, keeping myself occupied while I am riding the NYU bus, or trying to look like I’m really interested in what is on Facebook when really I’m just avoiding actual real face-to-face synchronous communication.
The DMV on the other hand, is not a place I visit every day. In fact, its a place I try to avoid ever having to visit. Get in, fill out the required forms, and get out as fast as possible. Chances are, if you were too excited or distracted when you went to the DMV to get your first drivers license to sign up to be an organ donor, you probably still are not one unless you decided to go online to the donatelife website and sign up.
The real point I am getting at here is that Facebook is a site which receives tons of traffic at all hours of the day and night, where as the primary method of signing up to be an organ donor, the DMV, has infrequent interactions with young people. What this means, as Terry’s article points out, is that there is “an extraordinary opportunity in social media’ to help spread the word about becoming an organ donor and to make it readily accessible for anyone who would like to sign up to do so with just a few clicks on Facebook. The fallback in this case, is that Facebook still needs “a set of strategies to create this cuing or reminding, or introducing people to the opportunity and encouraging them to participate” so that the initiative doesn’t just continue to fizzle out (InformationWeek). Looking at these specific possibilities and constraints social media sites could have in terms of signing up more people to become organ donors and in doing so potentially saving lives as a result of this effort, is part of what it means to discuss new media technologies from a social shaping perspective.