“Hugs over Handshakes” is Jeff Pulver’s mantra, and this was quite apparent throughout the whole of the #140conf NYC. From giving a voice to the homeless to ending corporal punishment, #140conf managed to successfully pack a two-day conference with more do-gooders than you could see on any given season of Oprah. But don’t get it twisted: #140conf’s primary focus was indeed the state of now (with a large helping of social good on the side).
Internet: The Technology That Unites Us
Day One of #140conf started off with a great presentation of AJ and Melissa Leon of The Pursuit of Everything. The husband and wife duo are the creative minds behind Extended Village, a social passion project aimed at using available digital technology in third-world townships to connect communities globally. AJ and Melissa pointed out that in a small town in Kenya, where electricity is sparse and access to running water is extremely limited, 3G mobile connectivity is still available.
Using the technologies that are accessible, Melissa and AJ were able to connect the community of Ola Nagele, Kenya, to the outside world using GoToMeeting, Twitter, Blogs and Facebook. With the help of the aforementioned social platforms, the Leons were not only successful in obtaining donations to help build a functional water supply system; they also facilitated global relationships between supporters and the local residents.
Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ, and Andrew Rasiej of the personal democracy forum addressed the importance of ‘open access internet’ in municipalities to promote a thriving economy and education system.
“A child will expand to fit their limited vision of themselves. We need to expand that vision,” stressed Booker, citing that limited access to internet, even in well-populated areas, can restrict the opportunities available to the nation’s youth.
The highlight of Day One, if not the entirety of #140conf, was the presentation given by Ann Curry of the Today Show. Her words were both powerful and inspiration, as the entirety of attendees was drawn in by her genuine compassion for humanity. The conference organizers avoided playing the traditional cutoff music during Curry’s presentation, as her words of passion and inspiration resounded heavily with the audience.
Curry cited her use of Twitter as a way to reach audiences with important news stories that are often overlooked or ignored by major media outlets. “If you are a student of history,” remarked Curry, “you’d have to acknowledge that we’re evolving into a more compassionate species.” She noted that social media has allowed us to empathize and connect with communities we may not have had access to in the past.
Social Good and Selfless RewardsNever in my wildest dreams would I imagine myself tearing up not once, but numerous times within a social media conference. Speakers this year really tore at the heartstrings of the audience, reinforcing the importance of being authentic both on and offline.
Krupali Tejura, M.D., a radiation oncologist, used Twitter and her blog as a platform to tell the touching stories of patients suffering from cancer. Krupali spoke about an 80-year-old woman suffering from terminal cancer who longed to make it to her 62nd wedding anniversary. One blog post and a few tweets later, the Krupali managed to connect the dying patient and her husband with their favorite musician. The woman, despite a poor prognosis, was given a reason to live and survived long enough to meet her idol and celebrate her anniversary.
Mark Horvath of We Are Visible, an organization that offers the homeless a voice through social media, highlighted some success stories of helping individuals in need through online communication. Horvath shared the heartwarming stories of individuals who found homes, jobs and other forms of help by tweeting their stories. In one scenario, a teenage boy who was homeless tweeted from a handheld gaming system. Famous skateboarder Tony Hawk got wind of the young boy’s tweets and hooked him up with clothing and skateboard gear as a result.
On the Second Day of #140conf, Scott Mills of Internet Violence Prevention spoke alongside graffiti artists Kedre Brown and Jessey Pacho on how social media can be used to not only fight, but also prevent, crimes and online bullying. Scott noted that by teaming up with the graffiti community through social media, law enforcement can gain the trust of individuals who would traditionally avoid involvement with police work.
Mills’ presentation took a turn for the somber when he addressed the tragedies of the 9/11 attacks and broke down in tears. “Trust, relationships and technology can help stop crime and another attack like 9/11,” Mills advised, citing the power of social media when used effectively.
Social Media and the Future of Education
The integration of social media tools into education was also stressed throughout the whole of #140conf. Anthony Rotolo, a professor at Syracuse University, presented the importance of educating in real time. What was impressive was not that he made his students tweet, but rather that his student were tuned into the livestream of #140conf and engaging in Twitter conversation while he presented.
George Haines, an elementary school teacher from Long Island, brought along MicroInterns (a group of 7th graders) to act out a skit on using Twitter for customer service. Alarmingly, the tweens had a better understanding of the corporate application of Twitter than most CEOs do. During the Q&A session, Haines’ pupils blew the crowd away when they acknowledged the importance of having strict security settings in place on Facebook.
Both educators exemplified the importance of social media and its applications both inside the classroom and in real life.
Passion and Engagement: The Final Frontier
From Ann Curry’s compelling discourse about compassion, to Alon Noir’s success story for @TheKotel prayer tweeting service, the main message of the #140conf was that by communicating your passion and engaging your audience, you will succeed. By addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Social Needs, you will in turn, in the words of Ted Rubin, see a “Return on Relationship”.
At the end of the day, the biggest lesson I took away from #140conf that hugs (online or in real life) can connect the masses. Once again, kudos to Jeff Pulver for putting on not only a thought-provoking conference, but also for bringing together an amazing group of emotionally profound presenters.
When using social media, do you engage in dialogue or simply post information as a monologue to platforms including Twitter and Facebook?