Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Social media can save the world (or at least do some good things)

"I am instantly reminded how connected we can all be to each other's experiences and perspectives if we take the time to dig a little deeper than the superficial. "
It's easy to become cynical about the state of the Internet, media, and what sometimes feels like an infiltration of the digital world into every part of our lives. Anyone who spends anytime watching, reading, or participating in the digital world probably feels some amount of cynicism, disappointment, or even rage on a regular basis. I know I do. But lately, I've found it's a little easier to also feel joy and hope for humanity.

This dose of positive energy comes to me in the form of Humans of New York. If you haven't heard of HONY, you should probably get on that right now (tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook). Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, has taken a photography project started after a brief stint as a bond trader, and turned it into an example of what is good about the digital world. Almost every day,  Brandon wanders the streets of New York City (and recently Jordan, Israel, Ukraine, Vietnam, Nepal and 7 more countries with the United Nations) and takes photographs of people he meets along the way. He also asks each person a few questions.  Mr. Stanton's questions elicit amazing insight into each of his subjects. I am constantly surprised by the depth he can achieve from just a small amount of time with each man, woman, or child.

Every day, after reading about politics, the state of the world, some crazy new social media tool that seems like a REALLY bad idea, and a few very uncivil comments, I check Twitter or Facebook and I happen upon a recent HONY post. I am instantly reminded how connected we can all be to each other's experiences and perspectives if we take the time to dig a little deeper than the superficial. What a fantastic daily lesson. Reading about someone else's path, even if it just a small part of a person's life, reminds me that everyone has a story: something amazing and something difficult in their past or present.

The Humans of New York project exists in the digital realm, but it connects us all to each other outside of our digital lives. It's a great reminder that the driver in that other car, the clerk at the grocery store, a colleague at work, and even the politician we disagree with on the news, are also humans who have lives beyond our interactions with them.

HONY is also a fantastic example for our young people. They regularly hear messages about Internet safety, managing their digital footprints, sexting, cyber-bullying, and otherwise avoiding making poor choices. What young people need to hear more about is how technology benefits the world and how they can contribute.  Your child, or our student, could be a young Brandon Stanton. If we only discuss the digital world from a place of fear and apprehension, we'll pass that fear and apprehension along. Though it is important to make informed choices, it's also important to get involved. Are you raising a budding photographer? Get those images online! Build a portfolio of amazing work.  Does your student tinker or take things apart? Does she program all the electronic devices in your home? She can start a YouTube channel and teach others what she knows. Is your child passionate about a cause? Does he want to build wells in Africa or save the local wetlands? He can find out about organizations that do that work now... or start his own.  The possibilities are truly endless.

If cynicism and disappointment are taking over, or if the negative consequences of our increasingly digital lives are driving you nuts,  remember that things can change.  HONY is a positive influence in the world and the impact is growing. The more we support the positive, the better chance we'll have to shift the digital environment towards good. We might not make it happen, or be there when it does, but our kids can and will.