The Stress, The Reality Of GoFundMe

Everyone wants to be happy and successful and alive and it’s strange that so often it’s a fight for us to think that we could be that.

You want to go to college but you can’t afford it. You want to open that restaurant but you can’t afford it. You want to get treated for cancer but you can’t afford it. More than life issues, class divisions and economic entitlements often stand in the way of having a chance at feeling better, at doing better, at literally living better. Of course politics underpin this. Of course the way American culture is structured underpin this. As a famous philosopher once said, inspiring a generation to power through the sojourns of mediocrity before success, “it’s not right but it’s okay – I’m gonna make it anyway.”

And we do make it – we turn to GoFundMe, the great digital carwash for causes that constantly pop up in your feed, noting that someone needs something. It’s a site that is like Change.org but with a literal face to the problem. Instead of sending an antiseptic form to an inbox in the void, you can stare at a friend or loved one or loved one of a friend as they smile hopefully or grin through pain, wishing for you to donate to their cause. “Help make my life,” they say. “Help me because I am beyond help.”

It’s strange. Unlike a Kickstarter – where a project is in the works, where a dream becomes a reality – a GoFundMe campaign is more like a sad letter you get from a distant friend or relative in their final hour, in a time of need, in desperation. “Please,” they say. “I’m begging you. I need your help.” They always need help. They always need to send their child to that special education program, they always need that boost to help them move home after natural disaster, they always need that help getting medication for their auto-immune disorder that will eventually kill them, the one that can be made better with this better medicine that their insurance won’t cover because it is a luxury. You can’t turn your back on them, can you? You saw the campaign. Another digital albatross hangs around your neck.

Yes, those who have a little extra money – those who have these “privileges” of physical success and financial wellness – can and should blink and pass along a literal buck to the cause. The myriad marketing tips to ensure your life altering cause works fly over the head because such a situation of turning to GoFundMe doesn’t really exist in their realm of being. Turning to such a website isn’t actually something that would ever be in this persons purview. They are set. They are the donor, the investor, the patron in the person’s life. What does that mean down the line? If the person being funded survives, does the friend who gave a few thousand dollars get to have a say on if the plug gets pulled on their respirator in the final hours? How does this work for the person who “angel invested” in your life, the glucose guardian of your future, work?

For some – For me. – these seemingly constant needs from people weigh heavy on the mind. I donated to this person I’ve never physically met but I think is very cute’s father’s life support campaign but turned down another friend whose boyfriend was in the hospital and needed money to cover hospital costs. I offered money when a friend’s partner died but not when a friend’s baby needed money for medication. The person making a documentary about queer Japanese culture got some cash but not the aspiring queer magazine maker. Philando Castile’s family was given money but not the people who live and battle oil tycoons in Standing Rock. Can you limit your empathy? You (I.) want to donate to all these people but only have so much disposable income to give to others who need.

Even more frustrating is the reality that not all these campaigns are successful. Such is the law of the Internet, such is reality, that there are winners and losers. Some people will toss their cause into the void and the void will speak back, resonating, glowing green as it spits dollars. Others will toss a cause in and watch it fall and fall and fall until it is eventually nothing, unseen, tumbling into an abyss, lost, eventually pulling its creator.

Yes, these campaigns can roll on and on and on and money does come when donated instead of disappearing at the end of a trial. That is good. The company – like all fundraising companies – still gets a cut and, for GoFundMe, that’s 5% of money raised. To make the matter more dour, a recent study of medical crowdfunding success stories was particularly dismal: in 2015, across several crowdfunding websites, 41% of campaigns were medical in nature – but only 11% of these projects were funded. A little over one in ten people who potentially need money to continue living will be unsuccessful in this pursuit. As the study suggests for those facing large amounts of medical debt, “your best option may be to declare bankruptcy.”

I guess this is life in 2017. I guess this is what the democratization of life looks like, where reality has become a reality show, where one’s hopes and dreams and survival requires an American Idol-esque song and dance to win new shareholders in your life. I guess it makes sense given Moore’s Law, as we spiral upward into the sun. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised yet, here I am, shaming myself over the stress and the reality of GoFundMe, the guilt that comes with every email update about any campaign I did or didn’t contribute to, for the note that arrives telling me that I “forgot” to check out and fulfill my donation.

We all want good lives and, unfortunately, we’re turning to each other via the darkness to gamble on our survival. It probably wouldn’t be any other way and – perhaps – it has always been this way.

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