At last count the Facebook sensation Humans of New York had just under 12.5 million likes. 12.5 Million! I mean, even the most popular of the multiple Pope Francis pages only has 1.8 million likes. Humans of New York began in 2010 by a photographer who wanted to take pictures of 10,000 New Yorkers and plot them on a map. It turns out people really liked this idea. What is it about a picture and a brief quote from that person about their day, their hopes, their dreams, or their confessions, that have made this so popular?
For me, it comes down to getting a glimpse into the lives of so many different people. The most popular ones seem to offer hope (662,500 likes!); something funny (682,000 likes); or inspiring (over 1 million likes!). This last picture started a campaign that raised $1 million for students in a Brooklyn public school. I’m probably not telling you anything new based on how successful this story has been, but I think this page speaks to our desire to be connected, to know the stories that people passing by us on the streets might have.
New York City is also a big part of this, with over 8 million people living there, it is unlike any other city in the United States. There is a certain intrigue about the people that live there. It’s a city that songs have been written about for years. Who can forget Give My Regards to Broadway, I know I can’t (my sister’s dance recital always used it for the finale). More recently, Jay Z and Alicia Keys paid tribute to the city.
Last week I went with nine students from Loyola University Chicago on an immersion trip to New York, to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of. Not to sound too cheesy, but the students got to know the humans of New York — mostly tiny humans because we were working with elementary school aged children. Does it make a difference getting to know someone from a different part of the country, with different life experiences? Yes! Is it different from just reading statistics or watching news stories about New York? Yes! When we sit and talk with someone and get to know them, we can allow ourselves to be changed by knowing them.