To Digitally Crack a Soul

February 24, 2009

In 2007, Jim Kim, the co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH), a non-profit whose mission is to provide medical care to the impoverished, spoke at PIH’s annual conference. In his keynote address, he spoke about the value that the organization puts on its ability to share stories. Throughout the conference, the audience heard from community members from Haiti, Rwanda, Peru, and Malawi. Dr. Kim expressed urgency for the audience to internalize these stories and share these stories in order to “crack the soul”

What Jim Kim meant by “cracking the soul” was to share a narrative that has such a deep affect on an individual that they cannot ignore the poverty, disparities, and other problems in this world, thereby launching them into action. Although both oral and written narratives can have this affect on individuals, it is more widely believed that the only way to truly “crack the soul” is for that individual to have an outstanding first hand experience.

For example, an individual may go to Kenya and work in an orphanage, or travel to Peru and do aid-work with rural farmers, or provide healthcare in the slums of Mexico City. It is these personal experiences that are thought to be the only (or most probable) experiences powerful enough to change an individual’s paradigm, and start a hunger (or guilt) that can only be satisfied by doing charitable work. These personal experiences are said to be more powerful than texts in books, images in anthologies, and a lecturer at a conference.

The ability of bloggers to instantly translate first hand stories of the impoverished and the oppressed, share both images and videos, document human rights violations on interactive maps, and stream live video of protests and rallies, allow any individual in the world to more closely experience international events, no matter what the scale. The capability of instant communication allows human experience to be shared, and not by a third party such as an interviewer or author, but by the individual who went through the experience.

We have already seen the power of digital media in the Obama campaign as it was able to rally and harness the energy of the younger generations. However, can blogs, new media sources (such as Global Voices), and digital tools provide a medium to share stories, while rallying and harnessing the energy of both current and future generations to aid the impoverished and the oppressed. As countless of human experiences are able to be imitated in the digital world, can a digital experience ever be profound enough to crack an individual’s soul?

-Aaron Marden


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