Does Twitter kill compassion? An academic institution struggles with the right response to the catastrophes in Japan


A few days ago a colleague of a development studies institute sent out a message to the postgraduate student community about responding to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. He is an academic expert on disaster preparedness issues and he wrote a short message, cautioning people not to make rushed decisions regarding donations and also to think about long-term responses to such crises. Sending money immediately may not be the best choice. What I found a bit ambiguous was that he had a small advertisement for his latest book in his email signature and with bad intentions you may have been reading this as an indirect book promotion. But the tone of the email was appropriate, reflective and cautionary – the sort of writing I would have done and I felt perfectly appropriate for a message that goes out to a 200+ audience. It also reflected the ton of discussions in my online network.
Since then, his message has sparked quite a debate and in a follow-up message he explains that he has received about an equal amount of support and critique for his initial message. He has organised a meeting with students (who have been, among other things, organising a fundraiser) to discuss the issues in person.

But what I find so interesting is that even if we recognise the multicultural nature of the student body and the grievances particularly of Japanese students or those with links to Japan, the first reaction by a group of future development experts is to criticise a call to be cautious about donations. Whereas Twitter and the ‘blogosphere’ started early on to point out 'why waiting to give to Japan is a good idea', there seems to be a strong inclination to ‘deal with these issues later’. Let’s be shocked and raise money – then think about how to spend it later. The colleague has since then pointed out that being compassionate does not automatically mean one cannot apply the skills and knowledge that academics have, but still, I’m left with the feeling that we first should ‘do’ something and then ‘think’ about the approaches etc, even as 'charities are aggressively soliciting donations around this disaster' as an experted quoted in a NYT article points out. I don’t think this is how it should work, but I wonder if the ‘Internet’ makes us less compassionate and too critical or rational? 
I don’t think there’s an answer to it really, but I felt that following news and blogs and Twitter may have put me out of touch with what many people felt, even as Bill Easterly writes about the impact of @TopTweets he experienced after a post on Japan; The reality 'on the ground' - even in an environment of educated development experts - seems to be partly different from many online debates.

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