Today and yesterday, relief efforts have sprung up across the web and IRL following the publication of shocking photos of a drowned refugee child. People are collecting second hand clothes and food, telling David Cameron to offer refuge, and generally funneling support and supplies to the thousands in Calais and across Europe who have been forced from their homes by conflict in Syria and elsewhere.
One campaign, however, stuck out in its use of technology to crowdsource supplies for the Calais camp. An Amazon wishlist page – more familiar as a way to circulate birthday lists or extravagant wedding registries – has been set up as part of the #KentforCalais and #HelpCalais campaigns, and is collecting donations of clothes, food, toiletries, tents and sleeping supplies.
Judging by the Twitter feed of writer and presenter Dawn O’Porter, one of the list’s organisers, shoppers have come thick and fast. Earlier today, another user tweeted that there were only six items left on the list – because items had sold out, or the requested number had already been purchased – and O’Porter tweeted shortly after that another list had been made. Items ordered through the list will be delivered to organisers and than transported to Calais in a truck on 17 September.
This, of course, is only one campaign among many, but the repurposing of an Amazon feature designed to satiate first world materialism as a method of crisis relief seems to symbolise the spirit of the efforts as a whole. Elsewhere, Change.org petitions, clothes drives organised via Facebook, and Twitter momentum (which, in this case, seems to stretch beyond the standard media echo chamber) have allowed internet users to pool their anger, funds and second-hand clothes in the space of 24 hours. It’s worth noting that Amazon will profit from any purchases made through the wishlist, but that doesn’t totally undermine its usefulness as a way to quickly and easily donate supplies.
Last year, I spoke to US writer and urbanist Adam Greenfield, who was involved New York’s Occupy Sandy movement (which offered relief after after hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2011) and he emphasised the centrality of technology to the relief effort in New York:
Occupy Sandy relied completely on a Googledocs spreadsheet and an Amazon wishlist. There was a social desire that catalysed uses of technology through it and around it. And if that technology didn’t exist it might not have worked the way it did.
So it’s worth remembering, even as Amazon suffers what may be the worst PR disaster in its history and Silicon Valley’s working culture is revealed to be even worse than we thought, that technology, in the right hands, can help us make the world a better place.