I Want To Save The World

I’m feeling frustrated today. Why? Because I want to save the world but I feel so helpless. With Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath getting worse and not better, I’m reminded again by something that has been nagging at me for a very long time relating to the subject of technology. Basically I’m sick of people talking about how technology is making it an exciting time to be alive because it is making the world better (especially now that we have 65-inch Plasma TV’s). Well if technology is so great why do I feel like I can’t do that much with it to help these people?

Don’t get me wrong though, as technology is helping out to some degree (or maybe it is more of a change of culture). Due to the severity of the events, more and more organizations switched to blogging/human mode (instead of the typical edited news or formated press releases) so that they could get information out faster to others. Yet why I’m so frustrated is because after disasters such as these strike, technology still doesn’t appear to be doing much to effectively mobilize and organize the masses to the degree I would like to see it. Yes, people are donating in droves (so much so that donation sites are being overloaded) but what else are we doing to directly help those in need besides monetary assistance. If they say information is power, what the hell are we doing to pass on information to assist and empower the people on the ground in Katrina’s wake?

A perfect example of this is the frustration of a mechanical engineer who wants to help on the ground but can’t seem to contact anyone via the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Yes obviously there are communication problems going on but even if the lines were open would it make much difference? What the hell I am getting at here is the difficulty of trying to grasp what the hell is going on down there (i.e. lack of information) and also how to coordinate such a large scale recovery operation (i.e. project planning complexities)? And yet don’t diverse groups of people from all around the world collaborate on large projects, sharing tons of information, on the Web everyday? If so, what the hell is stopping us from getting together and collaborating on such a vital project such as this? Remember, the beauty of the Web is about everyone doing their own small piece in small groups to collectively help the overall greater effort because, when disasters of this magnitude strike, having a centralized command site to control and organize everything can actually slow things down instead of speeding them up.

So this is what I’m wondering (and I just posted this as a comment on David Weinberger’s blog). What would happen if groups of people starting getting together into "cells" (i.e. like a "terrorist cell") to do good (like the cells that comprise your body’s immune system)? Imagine samaritan cells of small groups of people working together with other cells to help people in the wake of the Katrina disaster? What would these people need to work autonomously instead of through a central command center? I’m assuming a communications network (i.e. the Web) that would provide them with information and lots of it. More importantly, they would need the ability to gather this information from different sources (i.e. web services) as well as filter the vast amount of information so that it could be usable to their locality (even down to their neighborhood).

The question I’m pondering today is do we have the technology to do this? If so, why isn’t anybody doing this? Is it because no one has had the idea to utilize the existing web services (i.e. Flickr, Google Maps, Technorati, etc) in this way yet (i.e. tagging real life objects and locations, such as a neighborhood or quarter of a city)? If we don’t have the technology today to do this effectively, will the Web 2.0 architecture give us this ability in the future?

I know one things for sure, I’d rather see more people working on technology that enables small groups of people to collaborate collectively with other small groups on a world cause or project than see people working on the next generation Uber 100-inch Plasma TV set that will make my life "so much better" and make me feel "excited to be alive".