Technology and Influence – a cross-cultural perspective
In today’s digital age, technology is both an influencer of our lives and a tool for influence. It unites us in ways that would have been impossible just a few short decades ago. There are those who use it to spread lies and hate, and others who are taking advantage of the ways technology can broaden our perspectives and allow us to share stories of our lives with people across every kind of geographic and social border.
I will mention, as an illustration of the opportunity to effortlessly cross borders through technology, that I “met” the women featured in this article via Instagram. Through our interviews on Skype, I learned how each of them is taking advantage of life in the digital age to connect, learn, and influence others in unique ways in order to make a positive difference in the world.
Technology as an influencer
Hanging on the walls of Brittany Chung’s Los Angeles apartment are a collection of handmade posters – mostly featuring inspiring and challenging messages. One reads, “Children are dying from preventable deaths.” As a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK) and Founder of The Elevation Society – a nonprofit that focuses on reducing suicide, bullying and depression by uniting humans to collectively solve issues and showing every individual their life is worth fighting for – this poster serves as a major motivator, pushing Chung through the hard times of entrepreneurial life. “I don’t have time to be lazy,” she said, “[because] I don’t know how many lives we can save through Elevation Society. I believe I am here for a purpose – that everyone is.”
The motivation to start The Elevation Society came from Chung’s own tragic encounter with suicide two days before college graduation, when a dear friend ended her life. After struggling to make meaning of what happened, and researching currently-available suicide prevention programs, Brittany realized that what people really needed was a sense of purpose, in themselves and in the world. “I noticed that when people give back and see the difference that they make, they sometimes realize that their life has purpose and they can see a bigger picture.” So, in 2016, The Elevation Society was born.
According to The Suicide Prevention Resource Center, studies are still inconclusive, overall, about the impacts of social media on rates of suicide and depression in youth. However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the digital space is playing a large, and shifting, role in how young people view themselves and others. Kids as young as seven and eight-years-old are being cyberbullied on social media through platforms like Snapchat, Musical.Ly. and Instagram. And, constant exposure to perfectly-curated social media leads many to compare themselves with others – leading to depression and low self-esteem.
In our conversation, however,Chung pointed out many other positive outcomes of using social media. They include raising awareness of important social causes (for example, the ASL ice bucket challenge), increasing exposure to the struggles and daily lives of people around the world, and even offering a public platform for people who are not in the news media or in positions of power – allowing them to have a voice on the world stage. “Now we have a broader perspective. Before, if you came from a majority culture place, you couldn’t see people who looked like you. Now, you can see so many people with different identities.”
Social media can even play a role in self-reflection, shared Chung. “When you scroll through your life on Facebook or Instagram, you’re able to know yourself a little bit better. You’re really seeing your story and can get more in touch with who you are. Life is full of ups and downs. Looking at past pictures and conversations can allow you to bring yourself up a little faster because you’re remembering all the positives in your life.”
Through The Elevation Society, Chung takes full advantage of today’s technology to reach out to vulnerable individuals and connect them with meaningful opportunities to contribute to others. Some of the strategies include an app that links such people with opportunities to volunteer in the community, a robust social media presence filled with inspirational quotes and stories, and online surveys to learn more about the needs of those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. “Suicide is such a complex issue, so getting as many answers as we can from different people who are experiencing…depression or suicide ideation…from different ages and different walks of life…we’ll be able to get a better understanding of how we can help people.”
Through the app, surveys, and social media platforms, The Elevation Society is able to continually broaden its reach and be a positive voice in the lives of vulnerable individuals, both locally and around the world. And, when Chung wakes up in the morning and reads the posters on her wall, this message reminds her of her own purpose, “This life is bigger than you. You have the power to make a difference. Never take it for granted.”
Brittany Chung is the Founder of The Elevation Society. She was born in Middletown, Connecticut to a military B.R.A.T. mother from Cape Cod (USA), with roots in Cape Verde Island, Africa, and a CCK father born in Osaka, Japan and adopted by Chinese/Japanese parents. Learn more at https://theelevationsociety.org/.
Technology as a tool for influence
As most people who identify as “mixed” know, the word “local” doesn’t always hold lasting meaning. For Solonia Teodros and Grace Clapham, co-founders of The Change School, one “local” common to both was an international middle school in Singapore – where the two met. Both are daughters of diplomats and, as such, have each spent their lives on the move across the globe. Solonia’s other locals include Boston, New York, Ethiopia, and Taiwan while Clapham’s include Indonesia, Netherlands, Australia, Ecuador, and England.
So, to say Teodros and Clapham have each experienced life at a crossroads is, indeed, an understatement. Change is hard, as we all well know. And “finding yourself” without a strong sense of a well-worn path can be both exhilarating and daunting. After years of experimenting with career, identity, and geography, the two women reconnected back in Singapore. Teodros had left a job in New York City after reaching a point of burn out in her career and Grace had experienced the untimely passing of her father – both were at a crossroads. It was then that the idea for The Change School was born.
“Most people either go on a yoga retreat or go get an MBA,” says Teodros with a laugh. “The vision and the mission behind The Change School at that time was to create something more holistic…a space and community that would enable and facilitate that journey…of figuring out “who am I?” and “how do I define myself?” What are my strengths. What are my abilities? How can I find the best path for myself?”
Initially, both were interested in fostering their enterprise within the community of CCKs/TCKs who shared a similar mindset of openness and cultural intelligence. However, they were surprised by some people’s reaction to their messaging. “Some people said, “Do you think CCKs and TCKs are better?” Teodros explaines. “That’s not what a global citizen is for us. It’s not defined by how many places you’ve lived or how many languages you speak. It’s about having a sense of connection to a wider global community. By being able to embrace differences, focus on similarities, and build on diversity, we can create so much more for ourselves.”
Clapham continues, “Our bigger vision and our theory of change is that we’re working to develop global citizens with a better understanding of themselves. The tools are not tailored to CCK/TCK. There’s a need for more self awareness no matter where you are in the world. Perhaps we’ve had more exposure to change. But the tools are more about…empowering the individual to get a sense of awareness so they can be better directed to navigate all the tools out there.”
One such tool The Change School is offering is their online course, How To Confidently Create Your Bold Career Move, which is geared towards 20-to-40-somethings who feel themselves at a crossroads in their life and career. “At this point,” relates Solonia, “this is the population that sat on the edge between the dot.com boom and today’s digital revolution.” The question for many is whether to follow their parent’s path of a college degree and climbing a traditional career ladder, or something else – perhaps a career by design. “[It’s] no longer about finding yourself but creating yourself. This requires a different mindset, a different set of tools.”
Such tools, of course, include the use of today’s digital technologies. According to Clapham, “Technology is always there as an enabler and an amplifier. We’ve amplified our networks across the digital space and connected the dots by using technology. We’re also leveraging technology through the networks we have [locally] in order to build deeper relationships.” At the same time, both women were initially resistant to the idea of creating an online course. “We had been running a lot of offline events and retreats – things that are really immersive that allowed us to create these experiences and really deepen connections so that people would leave…with real bonds.” recounts Solonia. “What made us make the shift was an understanding that we wanted to reach more people and make what we’re offering more accessible. It’s been great because it’s allowed us to really engage more people in these courses we’re doing.”
This has been beneficial to The Change School from both a numbers and a mission perspective. “If we’re on a call like this [Skype] we’re seeing people dialing in from everywhere. People see that others around the world are struggling with the same fears and feelings of being stuck. It brings that global connection that we always wanted, but in a different way.”
That “different way” is truly at the heart of everything The Change School is about – both within the organization and through the ways they engage with their community. “We try to help people use technology to their advantage” Teodros describes. “For example, we help people create a career pilot [on LinkedIn] as a way to test drive a new career path. That is the beauty of tech right now. [You can] use it to your advantage to test a future vision.”
Of course, sitting at a crossroads in today’s lightening-speed digital age is quite different than it was in the past. Clapham elaborates, “The problem right now is that we’re going through a paradigm shift. People are changing and organizations are changing. We are like tectonic plates that have moved, but we don’t know where we’re going to sit. [At the same time,] that’s the beauty of not knowing where the future is going. We can create the positions we want if we understand who we are, reinvent ourselves, create our own story, and amplify our message through social media and technology. We can create the organizations and positions that people may not have thought about before.”
Ultimately, according to Clapham and Teodros, the mission of The Change School remains the same both online and offline. “By sharing our story,” Grace explains, “we’re also able to help others feel more comfortable about being themselves. A lot of the work we do at The Change School, with or without technology, is [based on the idea that] the more clarity a person can get about who they are, the more confidence they have along the way. Education through social platforms is one way we can [do this].”
Solonia Teodros and Clapham Clapham are co-Founders of The Change School. Learn more at http://thechangeschool.com/.
For both The Elevation Society and The Change School, success has never been measured in likes or followers, but in positively impacting the lives of individuals through sharing their unique gifts, personal journeys, and authentic selves with others. Technology, as a tool, is certainly providing us all with ample opportunities to be influenced and impacted by the work of others, and to shine a light on our own stories and pursuits. It’s up to each of us to decide where the crossroads of technology and humanity meet within our own lives, and how we will teach, learn, and influence one another across cyberspace and around the world.
About the author
Andrea Bazoin (say “Bah-Zwah”) is a higher education professional turned entrepreneur. She is the founder of everHuman, LLC (www.everhuman.io), a company that provides tech support that is actually supportive through coaching, project assistance, and workshops delivered with both expertise and empathy. Her family ties span across the United States and beyond – including Chile, Argentina, Australia, and France. She currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her French husband and their culturally-fluid son.