Friday, January 28, 2011

Generation Y Has No Problem Saving the World: Take It from Someone Born in 1990

I feel that I need to post this because "research" and opinions on my generation range from highly optimistic to highly cynical. Older people, even some who barely missed the cut-off, say that people my age are not such great people. They say horrible things, like that we are lazy and self-involved, and that we are not capable of or willing to solve the many problems thrust upon us (by these supposedly altruistic generations above us). These claims are almost always based on anecdotes and personal experience, but also some (in my opinion) unfair scientific studies.

Yes, I was born after Reagan left office. I did play outside and use the public library when I was young; but I started playing computer games, using word processors, and chatting online at the age of 8. I got my first social networking account in my freshman year of high school. Therefore, I did spend many hours of my childhood isolated in front of a computer and had many adolescent social encounters on Facebook and MySpace. And yes, I was told as a child that I could be anything I wanted, and I have always taken that with me.

But now that I’m an adult, it turns out that what I want to be is a force of change. This is not rare. My personal planned path involves starting a comprehensive organization for spreading human goodness. But I have friends who want to become schoolteachers to help children develop, artists to inspire future youth to be better and more creative people, or business people with a conscience. This may mean that we demand a bit more recognition than our parents--we want to know we are making a difference in the way we intend. This may mean that we will turn down offers for mundane, pointless jobs, even if it means we cannot own a home by the age of 22. If you are worried that we will radically change social norms and the way the American economy works, then stay inside. But please do not be afraid that we are leading aimless lives, or that we do not have the motivation and inner resources to solve the problems before us. I promise we will prove those claims wrong.

As for our 17 hours a week online, well, that is mostly helping us. We are living in a global society. Neither of my parents have any friends in other countries, but I have had them since I was 14. I used social networking websites to make new friends based on causes I support, music I enjoy, and even the websites where I play games. Throughout the years, I have had close friends in Greece, Brazil, Cuba, the UK, and Australia, not to mention the American Midwest and West Coast. Note that the farthest I have ever traveled was from my home in northern New Jersey to Orlando, Florida. I believe that my tolerance for diverse backgrounds and optimism for change has been greatly influenced by collaborating online with people far away from me. Many times it has been the same way I would collaborate with people I actually know. On top of that, youth like me who start out shy and socially awkward can enhance their self-esteem and gain a sense of community with peers by interacting online.

There are also benefits to quicker, more efficient communication with people we already know. We can accomplish more now that we have the possibility of easily planning or changing a meeting at the last minute, and contacting each other anytime we want. You may criticize us for having important or emotionally charged conversations via the internet, but having the opportunity to think before we type can sometimes help us communicate more clearly and appropriately. Finally, does it really have to be a bad thing that we can research something in a fraction of the time our parents could?

If you have more questions, please ask one of us before you hit Google. It is hard to talk to a 5-year-old, but that was 15 years ago and now we're all grown up. Of course, these are all just my opinions and I have had unique experiences. But I was born a member of this generation, and I have known its members as friends, classmates, and enemies. If you have only known us as your children, and young people showing off to their friends in public, try to take my opinions into consideration.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Passing Time or Making a Difference?: TV, Facebook, and the Dollar Value of Volunteering

Today I want to discuss one reason that probably contributes to why the majority of people are doing nothing to help anybody: They are too busy passing the time.

Rates of mental illness and crime are worse than they once were, and the gap between the richest and the poorest among us has been steadily increasing. These problems have many causes, but one thing that has definitely gone down is community collaboration. Many people don’t even spend enough time with their own families, much less their neighbors. We spend a lot of our time interacting with computer screens or staring inactively at televisions. We spend very little time interacting with strangers or reaching out to others.

Have technological advances caused us to spend our precious time on things we really don’t need? The answer is probably yes. One study, as reported in The Examiner, found that people spend an average of seven hours a month on Facebook. A small proportion of that time may be important professional networking, but my guess is upwards of 95% of it is not.

Did you know that for every hour you volunteer for a particular organization, you are giving them the equivalent of around $21? It varies by state, but it can be up to nearly $33, in Washington DC. (To see your state’s value and learn how the number is calculated, visit The Value of Volunteer Time at Independent Sector.) In other words, if you only gave up Facebook, if you’re like the average American, you could donate an extra $147 a month (in time) to a local organization. Add that to the nearly 3 hours per day most people spend watching TV (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), and you end up with approximately $1890 a month that you could theoretically volunteer to an organization!

Now I’m not suggesting that everybody can or should volunteer 100 hours a month, particularly if you work or attend school full time. But sometimes we lose sight of how much time we spend in front of the TV or computer. Maybe you could limit your TV use to a few hours a week, only your favorite shows, and your Facebook visits to one or two checks per day. Use some of the extra time to play board games with your family, tell each other about your day, or brainstorm about how you can help the community as a family. Spend just one of those hours each week volunteering and you could still be giving that organization the equivalent of $84 a month. So if you’ve been complaining that you wish you could afford the $10 or $15 monthly membership to a favorite organization, weigh your options.

You might fear missing a juicy status update or having nothing to say about Paula Abdul’s new show at the water cooler. But the next time you do, ask yourself if contributing to your community and leading a more meaningful life might be more important. Stop saying you will do it tomorrow and contact a few interesting local organizations today to see which ones need volunteers.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Making a Difference in 2011

The other day, I wrote about putting “make a difference” on your bucket list. Today, I want to talk about making it your New Year’s resolution and actually sticking with it.

The first thing you need to do is choose one issue you want to impact and find out one way you can make a difference. Maybe it will lead to other opportunities and maybe you will do something entirely different next year, but this is the one you will commit to this year. For example, maybe you want to help animals, so you will volunteer at an animal shelter.

If you can’t think of a way to help off the top of your head, do an internet search or brainstorm. That means you spend five minutes writing down every possibility you can possibly think of, no matter how stupid. Some questions to consider are what people are currently doing for the issue, what you think sounds like a good solution, and what skills you have that might be relevant. Between those techniques, you should definitely come up with a decent idea.

Next, set a definite goal, and write it down in a calendar or planner. You might want to volunteer twice a month, or spend half an hour a day on advocacy work. To make it even easier to follow, designate those times beforehand. For example, plan on volunteering on the first and third Saturday of every month, or plan on doing your work from 9 to 9:30 pm each night. If you want to volunteer, make sure you find an organization ahead of time and discuss your preferences with them. You can find one on Volunteermatch.org, or by doing an internet search for your city and volunteer interest (e.g. “New York City animal shelters”).

Finally, stick to these goals without compromising for the first month and see how it works. When a month has passed, you will be on your way to creating a habit and you will learn if there are any issues with your ideas.

This should get you on your way to making a difference and sticking to your New Year's resolutions! Post any problems or questions here, and share your goal and mark your progress if you would like!