Reboot the Future's Jennifer McNeill investigates how Millennials are using the internet to be nice.
There’s no denying it – ‘nice’ is trending.
Although it's easy to not realise quite how much; on any given day our feeds seem entirely polluted with stories of violence, natural disasters, of the most bleak aspects of the human experience. But beneath it all, there’s the antidote, there’s a kindness culture brewing. And it takes all forms: from a ‘Breathing Space’ bench unveiled last month at the University of Strathclyde after online pressure to promote student wellbeing to British Airways celebrating its 100th birthday with #BAMAGIC100 - a ‘100 acts of kindness’ campaign.
If you trace the ‘kind’ trend back through the Millennial zeitgeist, perhaps it started in 2016 when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton described her personal and political beliefs in 'shorthand' as "love and kindness". Or maybe it was in 2015 when supermodel Gigi Hadid said of her group of celebrity friends, “We want to be the girls known for our kindness, rather than our cattiness.” Or maybe it's wholly patronizing to attribute to public figures what could instead just be the inherent human goodness of those born between 1982 and 2009.
Being kind online has never been more important. Studies have shown that young adults spend more time with digital media (about 53 hours a week) than with any other activity – including sleep! This overload of technology has researchers concerned that young people may be unable to develop compassion and kindness at the same rate as those born into a pre-tech world.
As the generation currently aged 20-37 years old, it fits that Millennials would be the ones spearheading the compassionate campaign for those coming up behind them.
This year, the world watched as Extinction Rebellion transferred their ‘hashtag activism’ to the streets. On a smaller scale, charitable organizations can garner online attention - but do they really generate equal amounts of good deeds offline? I looked into two London-based charities.
Haus Of is a small project with an even smaller team - two artists who want to offer pottery and furniture classes to vulnerable adults such as those with mental health issues and the homeless. Having only begun this project in December 2018, without the internet, they wouldn’t be in the position they’ve now found themselves.
Social media and crowdfunding are, of course, a natural combination. "It is particularly important that crowdfunding tools exist for people like us who do not already have the 'right' economic and social connections to succeed," says Rachel Goden, co-director at Haus Of. And it all happens online. "The more people who can see the value of our idea the better. We use social media every single day (to the detriment of our followers!) to talk about the same drive day in and day out. And it's been successful."
She's right. In May 2019, the business won the creative category of the Big Idea Competition thanks to their growing online support and now they’re crowdfunding to raise money for their studio and the next steps of their project.
With government funding for local charities dwindling, Haus Of aren’t the only ones who have had to take their campaign online to raise money and awareness. Streets Kitchen are an incredibly hands-on project: a volunteer run initiative that brings meals to streets for London's homeless community. But without social media, their reach would never has spread like it has.
The fleeting nature of many online 'good deed' initiatives reflects the times: a new generation of instant gratification seekers with attention spans smaller than those of goldfish (yes, really!). Unless they are actively cultivated, online projects lose our interest and are quickly replaced by something else. In order to stay relevant they need ongoing maintenance both off and online.
With 17.4K followers on Twitter, Streets Kitchen relies on its strong online presence to recruit the volunteers it needs to run every single night of the week. And their hashtag #SolidarityNotCharity has been shared online more than 5 million times.
We all know about the dangers of social media, but there is also undeniably a place online for kindness. There is an audience for it. And despite a frequent rhetoric that conflict and competition are natural to the human condition, there is evidence to suggest that compassion is just as fundamental a trait to our survival. In the age of the Internet, collaboration is a highly successful tool to generate further awareness, pooling audiences and skills together for a common goal, or, in this case, a common kindness.
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