When I was young, the first mentor I ever had taught me a valuable lesson about new vocabulary words.
She said that every time I learned a new word, from that point on I then owned that word. I could put it in my pocket for safekeeping, she said, to take out and then use whenever I wanted.
This weekend was the National Day of Civic Hacking. I spent Saturday morning in Arlington, VA, speaking with developers whose projects included making rescue missions safer for firefighters and decreasing the amount of homeless on the streets. Later, I ended up at Google in DC, where another #hackforchange event was taking place. One of the most memorable projects there came from a high school sophomore and his brother, who developed apps that ranged from finding a far-parked car to sending out texts to preset emergency contacts when one’s phone died.
As a child, my pockets had been used for words. But in these hackers I saw that they had pockets big enough to fit many words, strung together by inspiration to form ideas and projects. And not only could their pockets fit these ideas, but they took that innovation and used it to construct products that would ease the life of the average human.
I think that was the most striking thing for me. So often people succumb to cynicism - it’s easier to not care about the issues that face the planet, that face humanity. This makes way for those with the selfish agenda - politicians seeking to gain a good reputation or corporations grasping for whatever they can wring from the public. Despite all that, the National Day of Civic Hacking showed me that real people do care about making the world better. These hackers devote their time and effort to these apps for free, simply in the hope that one day their creations will make the world a better place.
Sitting here at my desk in Connecticut, I hear words like “change,” “revolutionize,” and “innovate” every day. One can forget the true meaning of those words the more they are casually thrown about in conference calls and emails. But the National Day of Civic Hacking proved to me that there are people in this world who do not numb their humanity, but take the tools they have developed and strive forth to build something lasting and meaningful for their fellow man.