Digital should be a why, not a how.
Sneaked under the radar this week is the news that the Mayor of London’s Penny for London initiative is to close.
By enabling people to add micropayments to everyday contactless purchases like their bus ticket or their lunchtime sandwiches, it aimed to raise £25m for good causes across London.
After two years, the total stood at £3,394. Just £24,996,606 short of its goal, and not the “big, bold idea that will revolutionise the way we give to charity” that Boris Johnson promised it would be.
Some claim that registering for the initiative was too cumbersome. I think there’s a bigger issue at stake, and it seems to be a common one.
It’s that we think digital is there to drive efficiency – to make giving easier. But it doesn’t matter how easy you make it. People won’t give if you don’t first give them a reason to. No-one’s walking around wishing giving was easier, faster or more efficient.
The real tragedy behind Penny for London and many other initiatives is that they fail to recognise technology’s potential to deliver something far more important to us than efficiency – and that’s meaning.
In a world where I can donate money directly to the mobile phone of a woman in Kenya, where I can get behind a friend’s marathon or help pay off a stranger’s debts, Penny for London feels like a sad, soulless thing – another empty transaction in a world that’s full of ‘one click’ ordering and human-free checkout counters.
Would more people have used Penny for London if it was easier to register? I think more people would have registered if they’d believed in it.