A year ago I founded Yoga Foster with the intent of providing volunteers an educational experience giving back, while bringing free kids yoga programs to schools and community centers in NYC. It hasn’t been easy, or smooth, but we’ve worked with very little funding to make a lasting impact on students within the first year of our launch.
When people find out I have a nonprofit, most frequently, the question I’m asked most is “how do you make money off of this?” the most offensive question about what I do. It still surprises me that people need to know how the organization benefits me, instead of how it can help others. And although I can understand how someone my age, also just out of college trying to make things happen, could inquire out of curiosity and comradery, but middle-aged adults, too, are searching for that answer. And when I respond with the truth, that I don’t make money off of it, people look at me confused, as if it makes no sense to do something simply for the greater good, or that without getting paid, the work I do has no value.
It’s not their fault. The concept of value based on quantified, monetized measures of output has been engrained in society for as long as we can remember, but really emphasized in the industrial age, when mass production aligned the concept of productivity to making more, faster. Education aims to apply intellect and curiosity to grades and test scores; SATs branding teenagers with numbers that could shape the rest of their lives. At work, we align our experiences and expectations from the workplace to that number in our salary, and are constantly pegging ourselves against the efforts of others based on our age.
All these quantifiers are commonplace and generally accepted, yet the rise of digital communication has taken our obsession with quantifying things to the extreme. Likes, retweets, page views, followers – these somewhat harmless forms of measuring influence and engagement have broken down our concept of quantified worth to the most micro of interactions – tweets, comments, a simple post on Medium. Wearable technology can help translate a 3 mile run into a stream of data that pegs us against other athletes, and rank us in physical aptitude. Through the internet, we’ve never been so compelled to quantify ourselves in the most diverse ways.
Yet what would it all be for if we didn’t monetize it, and use these data points to apply self-value through the money we can earn? Our society has clearly shown that the cross-analysis of these data points give us each a value, applicable to various industries. An email subscription with a broad readership can become a startup with significant investments. YouTube sensations, singers, Instagram users – industries flock to these “thought leaders” with the right numbers, and now their success is built more upon the numbers behind them than the work that they share. And so, we share. We tweet, we write, we curate. We find generally acceptable content that we know people around us like, we manufacture it, and we deliver, much similar to the assembly lines of the factories that got us here.
So let’s abandon the idea of helping others for the sake of improving their lives, unless it suits for a good photo op, of course. Let’s forget about instilling joy and relieving anxiety in a child’s life, or improving a public school who clearly doesn’t have the numbers important enough to provide funding to benefit its students. While we’re at it, let’s abandon love, true relationships, fear, sadness, anger, all the beautiful emotions and experiences we have unless it’s communicated through Facebook updates or LinkedIn connections. If it can’t be quantified, monetized, it doesn’t mean anything.
In an interview this week, Kanye said that “sometimes not giving a fuck is caring the most.” Life wasn’t supposed to be a popularity contest. Influence and engagement have meaning that can never be quantified, and shouldn’t be. And true change isn’t going to come from re-creating the wheel just to get paid for it. In a world where we’re so concerned with what our numbers say about us, we’ll quickly lose our individual voices.