Every single day of our lives we are reminded of the idea that technology has quickly taken over our existence and relationships, and that we are not truly connecting anymore. We could – and a lot of people have – spend years discussing technology and its rapid growth and relevance in how we live and how we coexist with each other, but this time I would like to focus on something I find more interesting: how people are using technology to bring out the humanity in all of us, without us even noticing.
Exceptional teachers, parents, and overall leaders know how to trick you into learning or doing things that you don’t necessarily believe are important, but then you find out how essential they were to learn or do. It could be teaching you math through a computer game, literature by reading to you at night, or keeping you healthy by slipping medicine into your juice when you refuse to take it; we have all gone through this type of situations, and this technique has proven to be really successful when it comes to bringing human beings together.
One of the best contemporary examples of this is the world known website “Humans of New York” (HONY). A lot of people already know how it started, with its creator, Brandon, losing his job and taking on the personal challenge of photographing people on the streets of one of the busiest and most daunting cities in the world: New York City. His pictures turned into touching interviews and he began posting the pictures with an interesting quote or story as told by the subject. He began this project – along with a tumblr/blog and Facebook page – in 2010, and so far he has gained a following of over 12,000,000 on social media and published a #1 New York Times Bestselling book in 2013.
A lot has been said about the surprising impact of his work – he has helped raise over $2,000,000 for charitable projects – and he even traveled around the world in partnership with the United Nations. Thanks to the success of Humans of New York, many similar projects have appeared online, including “Humans of Spain”, “Humans of Seoul”, “Humans of India”, “Humans of Paris”, and at least a couple dozen more sites that publish portraits of people on the street and their stories.
HONY is an international phenomenon by now, but what would happen if we all began asking questions to our family members, friends, co-workers, or even random people on the streets? It may sound like a crazy idea, but HONY was also a crazy idea at first. Based on this crazy idea of asking questions to highlight our humanity and bring us closer as human beings, an organization called “StoryCorps” was founded back in 2003.
What StoryCorps does is basically recording and collecting interviews with people from all backgrounds, with the mission of preserving and sharing the stories of our lives, and to “remind one another of our shared humanity”[i]. They have an archive that contains more than 50,000 interviews, a popular NPR weekly broadcast, and to this day they have many important programs promoting the core values of StoryCorps and their mission “to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters”[ii].
Recently, the team behind StoryCorps launched the StoryCorps.me website and StoryCorps mobile app, funded by the 2015 TED Prize, with the goal of making it even easier for people from all around the world to record and share interviews and stories. You can record your interview in any language, and you can keep the recording in your phone or also share it with the StoryCorps community.
Both of these projects, HONY and StoryCorps, are fantastic examples of what we can accomplish when we look at technology as a way to bring us closer together instead of further apart, and their success proves that we can indeed learn about our humanity, about those stories and emotions that we all share, in a new and improved way that only technology makes possible.
As part of her TED talk in 2010, Amber Case, a Cyborg Anthropologist, expressed this sentiment brilliantly. She said, “It’s not that machines are taking over. It’s that they’re helping us to be more human, helping us to connect with each other. The most successful technology gets out of the way and helps us live our lives. And really, it ends up being more human than technology, because we’re co-creating each other all the time. And so this is the important point that I like to study: that things are beautiful, that it’s still a human connection — it’s just done in a different way. We’re just increasing our humanness and our ability to connect with each other, regardless of geography.”[iii]