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Duration:04:01
Uploaded:2022-10-25
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In which John discusses "engagement," which is one of those words that gets weirder the more you think about it.
Congrats to Kissy Psychiatric Hospital on their accreditation, and to everyone at PIH Sierra Leone on their continued strengthening of the healthcare system in SL. You can join the thousands of monthly donors to this project or make a one-time contribution here: http://pih.org/hankandjohn

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.

I loved your video last week about how,  especially in online discourse we often create dichotomies that place us into  one of two opposing camps. Like two innocent examples being  a hot dog is or is not a sandwich or cereal is or is not a soup.

One might call these questions instantly debatable and, of course,  they do extend beyond the hot dog and cereal realm. But the thing about these instantly debatable questions is they tend to  avoid nuance and complexity, like there is a spectrum of foods  that involve some combination of processed wheat with meat,  and/or cheese and/or vegetables and within that spectrum,  there is another spectrum that we call sandwich  and both of those spectra have fuzzy edges because that's the  nature of spectra! But that is a boring take that does not demand engagement.  Whereas a question like, "Is butt legs?" does demand engagement.  And engagement is sort of the fuel that runs the social internet.

Videos with higher engagement to view ratios on Youtube or TikTok are shown to  more people than videos with low engagement to view ratios. The same is true, for example, on my Twitter, like here are a couple  of my recent Tweets. This one I joke about the former  Prime Minister of the UK got 20k likes and generated over 100 new followers.

This one shares the news that Sierra Leone's Kissy Psychiatric Hospital  has just been accredited  as a full teaching hospital  where, for the first time in Serra Leone's  history, physicians and nurses can get psychiatric training inside the country. And it got about 5% as many likes as the Liz Truss one and generated  zero new followers. Now, obviously, these are very different Tweets.

One is a celebration, and the other is a joke.  One is about a news story everyone on Twitter knows about, the other isn't  But I see this everywhere I make stuff online. When I make stuff that allows people to agree or disagree with it in a straightforward   dichotomous way, it gets a   larger audience than when I don't do that. And this is true even when I'm sharing something  that almost everyone would be happy about.

Like, that the Sierra Leonean healthcare  system is getting stronger. The only real way I found to get a lot of engagement around an issue that people basically agree about is to present it as  instantly debatable as in, this is obvious and the only reason it's not happening is  because systems or people are merely evil and corrupt. The most notable example of this in my own life is probably my long-standing crusade  against the US penny.

And I can get some engagement out of the idea that the US penny only gets  minted because Congress mostly cares about divisive issues that can help  them get re-elected and not super obvious things like, not minting pennies. However, that kinda thing is much easier  with small issues, like pennies, than it is with something big, like the multifactoral  injustice that has led to impoverished healthcare and education systems. But, here's the thing, even though vlogbrothers videos about how stupid pennies are have  gotten lots of engagement and views, I would actually argue they have been  less effective at making change, pun intended,  than vlogbrothers videos that get far less views.  For instance, vlogbrothers videos about Kissy Psychiatric Hospital and, for me,  that's the real lesson.

They way to get simple engagement:  likes, views, comments; is not necessarily the way to get actual engagement.  The kind of volunteering, and fundraising, and lobbying that helps bring about real change. Of course, none of this is to delegitimize having fun on the internet and engaging  with instantly debatable questions And, I think even politically charged  instantly debatable questions can be hugely helpful in getting us angry.  Because we should be pissed off about injustice. And sometimes those instantly debatable  questions can be a way into a new or deeper understanding of it.

The year I graduated from high school,  11 million children under the age of 5 died. This year, fewer than 5 million will.  That is still way too high, but there was nothing inevitable about that progress.  It happened because people worked together to make it happen. Activists, healthcare workers, governments, charities, all worked together to make that  progress, and it was messy,  hard, complicated work.  But that is real engagement.

Not stopping at mere despair. Hank, I'll see you on Friday.