What Ze Frank, a 9-year-old food blogger, the military, and Reddit can teach us about empathy.
The Internet sneaks up on you.
I never watched The Show, so I didn’t really have any reason to read a story about Ze Frank’s Kickstarter to resurrect it. I do not know why I clicked on it, but I’m glad I did. It turned out to be about so much more.
Among the rewards that Ze Frank offered was the chance to have him walk a mile in your shoes. He was obviously kidding, but one supporter took him seriously.
In a recently posted video, we can go on this journey with Ze Frank. And it turns out, you do learn a lot walking in another man’s shoes. We go out with Frank to pick up the kicks and hit a hiking trail. It’s early—and Frank doesn’t seem accustomed to being awake at this hour. He’s unkempt and complains that he’s got a booger in his nose that he can’t get out and that he needs to go to the bathroom.
The shoes, when he puts them on, are a size too small. But, uncomfortable, he starts his mile-long walk. As he walks, he tells the story that explains why one user, Matt, took him up on his facetious offer.
In 2006, during the original run of The Show, Matt started to feel a tingling in his legs. It got worse, but doctors did not diagnose him with a spinal tumor until 2010. They removed the tumor, but when Matt woke up, he could not feel his legs. He was sent to physical therapy where he would try to learn to walk again. As his shoes wore, he could not try out new ones, because he couldn’t feel them. So he ordered another pair of the exact same shoes.
He went through seven pairs in all. His last pair arrived just before Asics discontinued the model. But, after 20 months of painful physical therapy, he can walk again. He wanted the last mile walked, in his last pair of shoes, by Ze Frank on YouTube.
“I think I’m free to cast judgment now,” Ze Frank says at the end of the walk. But he doesn’t have much to say.
I guess maybe that is the point of the old adage.
The Pentagon is ripping off Reddit. This is just fine with Reddit. In fact, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin hopes the fine folks in the Armed Forces will just use Reddit’s source code. It is open source, after all, and would negate the trouble of making it all again.
The purpose of the Pentagon’s site, called Eureka, is apparently to generate and surface great ideas. I am skeptical that it will work.
When it comes to things like Reddit, it’s easy to think that the tech is the magic. But it isn’t.
When they created Reddit, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian created an army of fake accounts to post to the site to make it look popular. I love the fact, of course, that the hugely spam-intolerant Reddit was founded on, well, spam. But it was good spam. Huffman and Ohanian weren’t just filling up the site; they were filling it up with the kind of content and discussion they were hoping it would host. They set the tone.
If the military really wants a Reddit of its own, I suggest a similar covert operation. Turning on the software is not going to be enough.
That human connection just might be the most powerful force in the world. Just look at what it’s done over the past week.
The NeverSeconds blog was started by a 9-year-old girl grossed out by her school lunches. A few photos later, she’s not only improved lunches in her own school, she’s created a platform to make school lunches both more palatable and healthier. And she’s raised almost $170,000 to build kitchens and provide food for school kids in Malawi. (Watch the counter go from zero to 1555 percent of the goal; it’s remarkably fun.)
Twelve gamers in Indiana played Super Mario for charity, raising $112,000 for an organization that provides toys and games to sick children. It was live-streamed on Twitch.TV, and they beat almost all the Mario games. Likewise, redditors getting together for global meetup day in Chicago raised $1,100 to fight cystic fibrosis (among shouts of “Fuck cystic fibrosis!”). The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman started a charity drive when he was sued by FunnyJunk. Though he intended to raise $20,000 for the American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation, the Internet ponied up $220,000.
It’s a funny thing that the military is now trying to recreate the Internet—considering the military invented it in the first place. It just shows that the technology was necessary, but it was not sufficient to create the Internet that we know and love today. It was when people came together online that the DARPANet technology became the Internet.
When he reaches the summit, after he says that he guesses he’s now free to pass judgment, Frank continues:
“Maybe if you joke about empathy, it has a way of smacking you in the head. Look at all these footprints, all these comments, all these shoes to walk in.”
What we saw on Global Reddit Meetup Day was the wide diversity of the people that the Internet brings together.
Whether it’s in the comments on YouTube, Reddit, or on blogs, it is the opportunities to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes that really matter. Walk that mile and you may be free to judge, but you don’t have much left to say. What you do have, is an opportunity to do something—even if “doing something” is just giving a few bucks to a good cause.
Photo via YouTube
Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.