Social Studies 2.0

So. There it was. An iPhone just laying there under the front passenger seat of my cab. Should I pick it up? I knew it wasn’t the taxi driver’s because he was chatting up his friend on his phone while he zoomed me down 5th Avenue. Yeah, I gotta pick it up. Should be easy to just call the owner and tell him/her, “Hey busy guy/girl, ya left your iPhone in the cab.”

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I reach down, pick it up. Hit the home button, slide the slider… oh crap. It’s got that damn password block on it. The one my teenage son uses so I won’t read his text messages. I guess at a few passwords. Of course, that doesn’t work. Crap. Now what do I do? It’s impenetrable.

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I ask on Twitter what do I do with an iPhone I found that is locked? Most tell me to take it to an AT&T store. They can track it by GPS. But, I don’t want to do that… so impersonal. It would release me from my decent sense of civil obligation to personally return this phone safely to its owner.

Hey, what’s that? A tweet comes through from @steamykitchen. I look her up on my iPhone. She’s in Tampa, a food writer with a lot of followers. Hummm. Not likely she’ll know my iPhone owner. But, what the heck… Maybe she’s a sister; a college roommate? I send her a Tweet. No luck. I realize the Tweet notifier came through as “emFeigen.” (which I stupidly don’t recognize as her twitter ID). I google emFeigen. Nothing. I search “Emily Feigen Twitter.” Nothing. Shoot. We’re so close, but so far.

The iPhone is running out of battery. Luckily, I have my charger in my bag. I arrive at NYU Parent’s Day at the Kimmel Center, and I’m worrying about the iPhone. I settle into my seat in the auditorium and spot an electric outlet near me on the wall. I discreetly charge the iPhone.

The kickoff speech is over. I check the iPhone and see there are texts coming in. Mom, Shara, some other names, nothing that gives me a clue how to contact the owner.

Finally, a phone number texts to the iPhone… I text back, “You just txted someone’s iPhone. Please tell that persion I have her/his iPhone. It was left in a taxi in NY.” A text comes back, “Thanks for texting back! Where are you? Still in NY?” Yay! I feel good. I’m only one degree of separation removed from the owner. Connected.

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It turns out the owner’s name is Emma, not Emily. Emma’s friend calls me while I’m in the rest room. I tell her I’ll be at NYU all day; my name is Susan. I eventually hear from Emma. She reaches me while I’m eating lunch with my daughter at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. She’s two blocks away. She says she’ll come by in ten minutes. She arrives with a beautiful bouquet of three dozen roses and offers to give me money. I flatly refuse the money, but am happy about the flowers because I know my daughter will love to have them in her dorm room. Emma is very sweet and very grateful. I had learned from her friend she is a chef downtown. I feel good about humanity.

It turns out, it was a banner social media day. The reason I was receiving so many texts on the iPhone is Emma wrote this note on her Facebook wall:

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Because of the volume of texts I received, I was able to text back to the one number she did not have in her address book. (If a text from a friend comes up, you only see the friend’s name, not the number.)

Later, I text Emma and ask her for her Twitter ID and I ask her to friend me on Facebook. I tell her I’m a blogger and would like to post about this encounter and take a screen shot of her Facebook wall. She agrees.

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In this simple vignette, I affirm for myself that the social web is bringing out the best in people. It’s connecting us in ways that are wonderful and useful. During the dotcom era I was a CMO for a digital startup. Our tagline was a question– “What happens when everyone is connected to everything?” In the late 90s, we didn’t know; the question was rhetorical. A decade later, the answers are unfolding.

The more connected I become, the more hopeful I am about the transformative, empowering changes that are taking place in society as a result of moving from an atoms-constrained planet to a pervasive-digital world. Yes, I know it’s only a minority of individuals who are connecting today, but the connections we’re making and the do-good we’re doing is establishing a new social order among civilized humans. With the exploding growth of mobile connectivity and ubiquitous access to the web, those in power to change our world are getting the job done in a spirit of service and humility.

So maybe it was only a lost iPhone and a grateful owner today, but the premise of humans helping humans via Twitter, Facebook, and SMS messages, is becoming the rule and not the exception.

And I’m loving every moment of it.

Cosmic Connections, Lessons, and Some Blessings from the Social Web

I’ve written many times about how the social web is teaching us and opening us up to a greater understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. This week, I witnessed first hand the power of relationships, the immediacy of the social web, and learned a great lesson in tolerance and understanding, and dare I say, faith? I’ve written a few times casually about how I’ve been personally affected by the downturn in the economy. As a result of my own economic crisis, I was turned down as a worthy co-signer for Amie’s student loans. Mostly I have felt awful about the prospect that I would be the one, in the end, who stood in the way of Amie’s dream of going to New York University. Of course University of Texas, Austin is an excellent school, but Amie’s heart already moved into the dorms at NYU. For good reason, she convinced me over the past few months NYU is where she belongs and where she aims to fulfill her lifelong ambition to contribute toward improving our imperfect world.

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Last week, Amie graduated with honors from Westwood High School. Here she is pictured at the Erwin Center donning her IB bling. I forced her to stand with the Capitol Dome in the background to snap this photo. You can see how enthusiastic she is by her expression about the prospect of linking her graduation to Texas and UT. The reward of graduating from such a difficult school in such a competitive program was eclipsed by the heart-breaking disappointment that Amie would not be returning East to continue on her academic journey. To Amie’s credit, she accepted her fate and began to let her friends in the Northeast know she would be staying in Austin.

On Friday, last week, I was “facebooking.” A friend asked me a question on my wall regarding where Amie would be going in the fall. The difficulties we’d been having had been chronicled on my Facebook page for months, so a wide range of my friends were curious about Amie’s ultimate college decision. When I responded to my friend that we were unable to send Amie to NYU and she’d have to attend UT Austin in the fall, I received a pop-up IM from another friend who was on Facebook at that moment. That friend was Greg Grosh. He asked me why Amie couldn’t go to NYU, and I explained all the details over IM. Greg’s reply? “I’ll be happy to co-sign Amie’s student loans.” My knee-jerk response: “Are you fking kidding me???”

As it turns out Greg, who is in what he calls his “second retirement” is affiliated with The Point Foundation which “provides scholarships, mentorship, leadership training and hope for students of merit who have been marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” Greg is helping a few kids get through school and is willing to help Amie too. This news floored me on a few levels. First of all, the cosmic connection here is Amie is more connected to gay friends and family than anyone I know. Her father is gay, in fact. I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable with the gay community that surrounds Amie. ¬†Greg’s generous offer has forced me to take a hard look at my own repressed intolerance. Reading the literature on the Point Foundation’s web site has done me a world of good. I encountered something similar (via Facebook again) a few months ago relative to racism. Who knew I was a racist?

The SocialWeb that connects us is breaking down the ignorant walls that divide us. I’m living proof of the power of the SocialWeb to challenge our entrenched, stereotypical, ignorant biases by exposing us to new ideas and new freedoms. The second meaningful outcome relative to Amie’s new opportunity is related to generational poverty. Getting Amie to NYU is symbolic to me. Although I’m certain Amie would have done well at UT, the opportunity to attend a private university should break the cycle of generational poverty that has been shadowing my particular branch of the family tree. I was the first one to attend college in my immediate family, although I never completed my education. There have been many debates over the value of a good education. I could probably argue both sides persuasively. My most convicted arguments would fall on the side of pro formal education, however. It’s taken a lifetime of “breaking the rules” to understand this, but in this new era of social mobility and connection, I believe it now more than ever. Further, if this is the generation that is going to finally set things right, they’ll need all the ammunition they can stockpile. And the reinforcements they’ll need will come in the shape of empathy, knowledge, and compassion for those people and places that exist outside of our comfort zone.

So, congratulations Amie. You’re going to NYU. Thank you Greg for your generosity, and thank you Mark Zuckerberg for keeping us connected and integrating our public and private lives. Oh, the biggest news here is Amie finally signed up for Facebook. My rebellious day-dream believer is now a digizen.