How to Make the Hours You Waste Online Actually Mean Something
Become a Better Person
Technology has made it easier and less intrusive to recruit allies in our never-ending quests for self-improvement. These two sites, inspired by game culture, give a techie twist to the phrase "buddy system."
DailyFeats: This new website allows you to make to-do lists of small yet worthwhile daily goals, like "drink green tea" or "tuck in your kid." Every time you accomplish one of your selected "feats," you rack up points that can be applied toward discounts at places like gyms, restaurants and hotels. To keep you honest, you can invite friends and family members to monitor your progress. Studies have shown that people who track their good habits are more likely to keep them up, and sharing that information with others gives us a boost of pride—even for simple tasks like popping a multivitamin.
SuperBetter: Game designer and techno-supergirl Jane McGonigal created SuperBetter as a way to help her recover from the depression she struggled with after a head concussion. This game, intended for those who want to achieve more serious health goals like dealing with an injury or illness, is modeled on a role-playing adventure. Players create missions for their health and wellness "journey," then enlist the help of friends and family to guide them through real-world challenges. "Social psychologists have long observed that one of the hardest things about a chronic injury or illness is asking our friends and family for support," McGonigal has written. "But asking for what we need makes a huge difference. It prevents social isolation, and it gives people who want to help, but don't know how, something specific and actionable to do."
Broaden Your Worldview
New research from information economists shows that we acquire more new information from close friends than from casual acquaintances. Although the acquaintances may offer perspectives that differ from our own, our contact with them is limited. We interact with our close friends much more often, providing them with more opportunities to share news, info and gossip. The key here is to make sure that you're interacting frequently with at least a few friends who are different from you.
Facebook: Focus on the "friends" who are actually your friends. Initiate and participate in conversations (lurking and "Liking" don't count).
Goodreads and Netflix: You can mine your pals' favorites on these sites to find unexpected book and film recommendations. This BlogHer post has more tips for getting the most out of Goodreads, like starting online groups that "are like book clubs, but without the pressure."
You know the saying: Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a mouse (or a touch screen), and he'll click to these group-building websites to help develop ways to feed the hungry, improve public health and solve other pressing social issues.
OpenIDEO: This online platform hosts global brainstorming sessions to address world challenges, like the poor health of people in low-income communities and the need for bone marrow donors. Creative thinkers collaborate on concepts, and the best ones are (ideally) put into practice. Two of the site's partners, Oxfam and Nokia, are currently working to implement the 10 winning ways to answer this conundrum: How might we improve maternal health with mobile technologies for low-income countries? What would you have suggested?
Kickstarter: This site, which allows anonymous supporters to offer financial support for strangers' creative projects, makes us feel like angel investors—or superheroes. By pledging an investment (which can be as low as $1), you sustain someone's dream. Filmmakers, designers, musicians, writers and artists include impassioned descriptions of their projects, and many offer community benefits. Check out this prototype of a mobile nursing station that provides an on-call haven for moms and babies, and this proposal for an organic rooftop farm in Philadelphia.
Yoxi: This social competition is like a fun, updated take on the do-gooder practice of rounding up co-workers to pick up trash on the highway or read to the elderly. Yoxi challenges teams of self-selected "problem solvers" to create and communicate solutions to social issues like the dearth of healthy fast food options. Anyone can put together a team to create videos showing their ideas over three rounds of competition, and some get so involved that they decide to quit their day jobs. While the teams battle for support, renowned judges size them up, and the online audience votes for their favorites as well as pledges funding if they want. Winners get startup money to build their solution, and voters (who are integral to each project's success) get the satisfaction of doing something good for the world—without leaving their desks.
VolunteerMatch: Connect with charities and other nonprofit organizations that need your money, your effort or your time. This search engine is used as a recruitment tool by over 78,000 nonprofit organizations, so you're likely to find a project that matches your values, needs your skills and is located in your area.
Jumo: This social networking site lets you set up a personalized profile page with the causes and issues you care about. If the site's interface reminds you of that other social network (you know, the one in the movies), that's because Jumo founder Chris Hughes was also a co-founder of Facebook. After selecting organizations and issue areas you want to follow, you'll see updates, news and blog posts pop up in your news feed, and you'll have the option to respond, comment or act. Jumo takes our inclination to Facebook stalk and puts it to philanthropic good.
Support Those in Need
While cards with cats in trees will always be a welcome way to tell someone to "hang in there!", online videos allow us to send messages of support to multiple friends at once, as well as to strangers in crisis.
It Gets Better: This online video channel for LGBT youth, started by the brilliant relationship columnist Dan Savage, has become a worldwide movement. Over 10,000 inspiring videos have been submitted to reassure gay, lesbian, bi or transgender young people that "love and happiness can be a reality in their future." Join Ellen DeGeneres, the New York Senate and the Boston Red Sox in submitting a video, watch one with a friend, or pledge to support a future of tolerance. The Trevor Project, a partner hotline to the IGB website, offers resources for teens going through a rough time.
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