I’ve gone through various stages of “connectedness” in my life. We all have. Some of you are so young that you’ve never known anything else and some of you remember the days when you only knew the local news and big events like going to the moon. Today, we no longer have to rely on travelers spreading information like a game of telephone through roadside diners along Route 66.
Nowadays the whole world is a social media stage, where everyone can step up to the mic and say hello and someone might listen.
When hurricane Katrina happened, Facebook wasn’t available to most of us. The tragic event was probably featured on the cover of every newspaper and was the headlining story for every news outlet. At work a co-worker said to me, “Well, I was heading to New Orleans today, but so much for that!” and I cluelessly responded, “Why?” He looked dumbfounded.
When the earthquake in Haiti happened, I felt more connected through Twitter than anything else. I watched real updates from people who were there to help rebuild and I wished I could help. But I really didn’t know how, so I donated some money to the Red Cross. When the protests started in the middle east, I followed along and looked at one bloody photo after another and watched what happens when a country tries to silence your voice and shuts off the Internet. When the Japanese tsunami claimed thousands of lives, I curled up in a ball and cried. I felt helpless.
Even though I was “connected,” I had no idea how to help. I could follow what was happening but I was merely an observer. So I just decided to set up a recurring donation to the Red Cross. A few days later, something transformative happened. I sent an email to a friend in Japan to check on his well-being and he responded that he was fine, but he was trying to raise funds to get his neighbors some supplies and toilet paper.
Take note: When a disaster happens–and people don’t think about this–you run out of toilet paper. This friend immediately filled my need to help. I offered to supply everyone he knew with toilet paper. That’s when I had an idea: why couldn’t we build a Kiva or a Kickstarter for something like this? Why couldn’t we directly fund people who were on the ground and local who could help in the time of disaster?
Well, for one, individuals aren’t charities and unfortunately some amount of fraud would inevitably happen. I pitched it to a few friends and, like many of my ideas, it died on the vine. But my feeling of being able to help didn’t. I knew someone who was directly helping and, by knowing him, I could also help.
Even though I consider myself one of the most connected people on the planet, I woke up on Friday and bragged to a friend that I was going to go see Batman. My friend looked at me and she couldn’t believe I had not heard the news, despite my connectedness. She pulled out her iPad and showed me the shocking news about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado the night before.
We all have different ways of dealing with tragedy. My way of dealing with it, was getting on to the Internet and searching for anything and everything related to shooter James Holmes. I was determined to figure out how he was connected to the global stage. In this day and age, he must have online profiles somewhere and it must be able to tell us all something about him.
I don’t have any bad ass ninja searching skills, apparently, but other people do. An Adult Friend Finder and Match.com page surfaced. Still, I became obsessed and spent every night searching. Looking for every clue that was handed to us and I came up blank. I read story after story of every victim and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I just couldn’t make sense of this person’s senseless crime.
Guess what? I felt hopeless again. I thought maybe my Internet skills, or lack thereof apparently, would lead me to information that could help the victims. Nothing. I went to the Red Cross site, but something changed. I just couldn’t give them anything else. I don’t know where that money goes. I know they do great things. I know that. I just can’t see the faces. I can’t read the stories. I can’t see how my money directly impacts the people in need. I mean, I give to the Red Cross anyway, but I wanted more and I came up empty handed.
I thought about jumping on a plane and heading there to help in person, but then the power of connectedness happened. Saturday night, I got this direct message on Twitter: “Hey c. Could you please tweet this? :: See 5 ways to bring HOPE to Aurora, Colorado! Join us @ http://t.co/vp1ESWF”
I decided a long time ago to follow pretty much anyone who follows me. It seems polite and, as a result, I get some, but not a lot, of spam. I was prepared to ignore it, but the words “Aurora, Colorado” caught my attention. I clicked on the link and suddenly, I was filled with hope.
The link lead to a site called HopeMob.org, which is exactly what it sounds like–a flash mob of hope. It is a site that raises money for causes, currently one at a time, in a pretty neat way. Stories are submitted to their team and, once they are approved, they are put up to a community vote. Votes cost money (huge fan of this concept!) and the ensuing revenue directly helps the operations of their non-profit. Once a story is voted up and wins, it is locked in to be featured on the front page.
The other great thing about HopeMob is that 100% of the funds that are crowd sourced online for a particular story go to the people in need. The funds aren’t passed directly on, but rather the non-profit vets everything and pays the bills themselves or buys what’s needed for the victims.
Suddenly, I could help.
The top story on HopeMob currently is for the victims of the Colorado shooting and I immediately gave money to the Colorado fund, as well as HopeMob as an organization. As a business owner, I know how much effort it takes to run a company non-profit or not and I want to make sure this site succeeds.
My life is forever changed because of HopeMob.org. I now feel like I can really do something that’s meaningful and has real results that I can understand. I may not be able to save everyone, but maybe I can make a difference in a few people’s lives. In a world we perceive as fucked up, or a place like the US where we may dislike how our government is run, we can at least be what I truly believe we inherently are–good people.
Through the power of the Internet, we can help one another. I’ve already talked too much. Probably 700 words too much, but there’s no way for me to make this story short. Tonight, I received another direct message on Twitter. A model who was in Colorado creating a set submission for Zivity was shot several times in the movie theater. There is a prominent photograph of her gun wounds and the story of her survival. I was floored.
Suddenly, tragedy hit home. I was thankful she was alive. I read her brave story and I was even more thankful that she took credit for her survival and thanked all of the people with their years of experience and skill who helped her recover. I decided to pay her medical bills. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me. We know of each other through the Internet. It seems like the right thing to do. A friend of mine said it best tonight: Our institutions may be broken but we can at least press buttons to help each other.