January 15

Digital Humanitarians

One of my favorite parts of our digitized world is the idea of “digital humanitarians.” A few months ago Bill showed me a site in which scientists crowdsourced research on penguin migration patterns by asking people like me to look at a series of satellite photos and click yes or no depending on whether any penguins were present in the picture. I found it oddly addictive and satisfying to see all of the different pictures of penguins in the wild.

Today I got an email that the same group is crowdsourcing people to look at as many or as few images as they choose of storm damage in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan. This will help scientists prepare for future storm devastation. I have a lot of deadlines right now but in a few minutes I just clicked on10 images indicating if I saw structural damage, blocked roads, flooding etc. It seemed like an easy deposit in the “take a penny, leave a penny” karma account. Unlike the penguins though, these are people’s lives and livelihoods that have been destroyed by nature’s wrath. As I clicked through the images I realized that I was acting as a witness of sorts for those whose lives were destroyed through no fault of their own. Periodically I’ll go back and click through some more photos but this experience reminded me that everyone with eyesight and a computer has the potential to be a digital humanitarian and that’s a beautiful thing.