Advances in social technology like Facebook.com, Myspace.com and Twitter.com, have been just as controversial as beneficial. Most citizens see these tools as a means to remain in touch and bring greater solidarity to society. Robert Putnam, Harvard political scientist, argues the opposite in his book “Bowling Alone.”
Putnam’s research claims that technological advances allow individuals to seclude themselves and limit face-to-face interactions while maintaining a feeling of connectedness with the world around them. I like to summarize this phenomenon as the ability to be a “social hermit.”
We have a growing tendency to rely on Facebook and Twitter to remain up-to-date about what is going on in the lives of the individuals we are closest to, rather than taking the time to give these people a phone call or meet for a face-to-face conversation. Putnam continues to argue that this decreases the community cohesiveness that is needed to help solve societal problems. Since technology gives us the opportunity to remain secluded, Putnam suggests that as a society, we are becoming more selfish and apathetic.
However, nothing is inevitable. While technological advances have led to an increase in independence, they have the untapped potential to help others, as proven by the Web site givinganon.org.
According to a Marketplace Money report, Lionel and Misha Thompson struggled financially to pay bills because of unforeseen medical expenses. It was not until their neighbor provided some much needed assistance for them to get their feet on solid ground.
“One time, one of our neighbors gave us $1,000 to pay our rent,” said Lionel Thompson. He continued on to say that it was this act of kindness that helped him and his family through rough economic times.
This generosity inspired the Thompsons to start the nonprofit group Giving Anonymously. Giving Anonymously, through givinganon.org, allows individuals to help their neighbors by having an anonymous check sent to their residence. Also, if you just have the spirit to help and are not sure who you can assist, the Web site has a database of those looking for assistance. Through the Internet and pure kindness, Giving Anonymously has demonstrated the strength of empathy in a social networking society.
“We are not the charity, you are,” exclaimed Lionel Thompson in the Marketplace Money report. “Look to your friends and family members in need, and give to them.”
Many of us struggle to accept assistance, because of our pride and self-belief. Giving Anonymously acts as a solution to this problem, as beneficiaries from this philanthropy have been graciously accepting gifts. Those assisted may never discover who their personal guardian angels are, but they are able to record a personal thank you message that Giving Anonymously sends to the donor or donors.
“I just received $300,” explained Crystal, a recipient of assistance. “I just sat in the pharmacy line picking up my daughter’s $300 prescription,” continued Crystal. “Thank you so much!”
While there is great truth that technological advances have the potential to transform us all into “social hermits” who neglect to solve societal issues, nothing is inevitable. Giving Anonymously has demonstrated technology’s ability to allow compassionate and empathetic community members to assist others needing help like never before.
Keeping a positive attitude can be a lot of work with media filled headlines of terrorism, deadly war and gruesome murders, but Giving Anonymously is the greatest example of what is working and the power of the human spirit.
-Bobby Gomez is a senior in elementary education. Please send comments to email@example.com.