There’s No App For That: Conversations in The Tech Capitol

Hanging out at the marina…glued to their cell phones.

When I tell people I work in fundraising, I always see the same reaction: they begin to sweat, get antsy, and reply, “That sounds horrible; I could never do that.” But I’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not about asking for money. It’s about building genuine relationships and presenting an opportunity. That’s it. Last week I met a 70-year-old woman who collects fine art, frequents the symphony, and bird hunts with falcons. This week I was invited over for an authentic home-cooked meal of dumplings and green curry by a woman who moved here from China two years ago. She said, “Everyone has been so welcoming to me. Now it’s time for me to give back.” We’re starting conversations, and building friendships. That is fundraising.

But this past weekend Dave and I traveled to San Francisco for a quick getaway, and I noticed a startling lack of conversation and public relationships. The buses and subways were unusually silent. People passed one another on the streets without so much as a nod of the head. This is common in many cities, but what really caught me off guard was the amount of time people spent with their heads down, six inches from their cell phones. People were so fearful of missing out in the virtual world, life was literally passing them by above their heads.
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I decided to shake the city up a bit. I took it upon myself to take portraits of the wonderful people I met in the city, (and there are truly some wonderful people in San Francisco, once they put their phones down.) I talked to service workers, women on the street, homeless people on the bus, friends of friends, and surfers waiting to catch the next wave. And we didn’t talk about the weather, or the boring, “So what do you do?” question. I wanted to interact with people as if we had known each other for years. The result: every single person I approached was genuinely happy and flattered to be appreciated. It’s that easy.
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Without a common language, we quietly shared an appreciation for the beauty and art of his herbs and spices.
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With a thick Italian accent, this woman told me, “I bring the bread! You want bread, I bring bread. But you must eat all your food. More bread?”
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“I’m a brain researcher up at the hospital.” Taking the bus home at 9pm.
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“You want to take my picture? Ok! But can I look like I’m working so I don’t get into trouble?”
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“We’ve been married for two years. We both love Amy Poehler.”
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“The freest I’ve ever felt is having everything under my head living on the street. Because, if ‘less is more,’ then nothing is everything.”

It was never difficult to find someone to talk to. While people may seem shut off, lost in their own virtual world, they just needed a little jolt from reality to wake them up from their cellular slumber. The result? Everyone I approached opened up with personal stories, fears, and dreams. And every single person was genuinely happy and flattered to be appreciated, if only for a moment. It’s that easy.

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