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On Smartphones, #Selfie and Making a Difference

Published Dec. 8, 2013, 10 a.m. PHT

Last updated Dec. 8, 2013, 10 a.m. PHT

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This is the transcript of the talk that I delivered on December 6, 2013 at the De La Salle University – Manila for Tapatan 2013 organized by the Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista.

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When I was 20 years old, I was student just like you. Well, I’m still student right now. But I’m in graduate school. So anyway, yes, I was just a student like you with little to no worries. When I’m bored, I just take out my smartphone, surf web, check on social media. You get the drift.

It’s actually amazing what our gadgets or smartphones can do nowadays. Don’t you agree? At 6am, I wake up to my phone’s alarm, telling me to go to work. During lunch time, I post a photo of my food on Instagram before eating. And while waiting for the day to be over, I surf the web. We really do a lot of things with our smartphones or gadgets.

Admit it or not, many of us here spend quite a huge chunk of our waking hours tinkering with our electronic gadgets. I hate to sound like a capitalist or someone promoting consumerism or materialism. But in some way, our smartphone is now an extension of ourselves. I mean, really, we take it everywhere we go, whatever we do. Like, it’s actually crippling if we get separated from it. Like leaving it somewhere or losing it. Right? And one of the things that I think people use their smartphone for quite a lot aside from calling, texting and surfing the web is…

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TAKING SELFIES. I guess it’s safe to assume that some of us here or many of us here use smartphones to take selfies or take photos in general. In fact the Oxford Dictionaries said that “selfie” is the word of the year. And you know that “selfie” has indeed gone mainstream because…

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Even the Pope has posed for a selfie at least once in his lifetime. And maybe, just maybe,

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… Mona Lisa’s next.

And because many of us love to take photos of ourselves, Time Magazine has branded this generation, OUR generation, as the ME ME ME generation. We love taking photos of ourselves as a way to express and embrace our individuality, our uniqueness. And one thing is for sure.

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We love taking photos! From the announcement of a new pope or even during concerts or events. I think that the love for taking selfies or photos isn’t necessarily bad.

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But sometimes, it can even get us into trouble. You know what happened when this photo went viral. It’s a photo taken right in front of a bus where a number of Hong Kong tourists were killed during the Manila hostage crisis.

That went viral because when we take photos, we don’t just keep them for our personal consumption. We share them on social media—on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr—and they’re seen by our friends, family members, relatives and whoever who follows us on these networks. It can actually be seen by anyone who has Internet access.

I, too, love taking photos using my camera phone. But I don’t take selfies, okay. Maybe I did once or twice, but that’s it. I also love Instagram and I post a lot of pictures there—of my food, the things around me, what I’m doing at the moment and whatnot. You know what I mean. But more than taking photos of mundane things and sharing them on Instagram.

By taking photos and sharing them online, I’m able tell stories—the stories of the people I see and meet everyday. And I share their stories and my stories too with the rest of the world.

Early this year, I was in Baguio for a vacation. And I was there in Burnham Park just like any other tourist—to enjoy Baguio.

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But then this guy caught my attention. And I decided to strike up a conversation with him. He’s Carlito Ruazol, or simply Mr. Hot to his patrons. He’s there in one of Baguio’s popular tourist spots serving coffee. He maybe one of those sidewalk vendors but he takes pride in the work he does. And he does his work with great passion and dedication. Just look at the way he dresses up.

He greets locals and tourists with a big smile as he roam around the park offering them with a wide variety of hot beverages—from brewed coffee and even cup of warm milk.

He told me that, for him, selling coffee is an art. Making money from it is only secondary. He said that he loves people and he enjoys giving good service. And Mr. Hot is no alien to giving good service because he worked in a hotel for many years before deciding to start his own business. And his novel way of selling and serving coffee would surely leave a lasting impression on anyone. In fact, he has become part of the whole Burnham Park experience!

And it is this kind of story of passion and dedication that kind of inspires you to simply do your best in whatever endeavor you’re involved in. And I thought that this is a story that needs to go out there and I couldn’t pass on it. So, in the end, the story of Mr. Hot not only reached my friends but also the world. Right after posting his story on social media including my blog and YouTube page.

CNN got wind of the story and decided to run it. The guys at CNN were really amazed by Mr. Hot’s story that they published it on the CNN International website for a couple weeks, and it was also on the CNN travel website for more than a month. It was all over CNN.

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And they even called Mr. Hot as the “Philippines’ most dapper barista.” Imagine. Just imagine how many people were able to read and get to know Mr. Hot through that. And how many were actually inspired in one way or another by his story of great passion and dedication.

Here’s another story.

In May early this year, we had a national election. Everyone was excited about that election because, again, we had a chance to have a say on who gets to lead the country and how the country must be run. And the weekend before the May 13th elections, I was at Araneta Center in Cubao and this is what I saw.

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Apparently what I saw was the “election exodus.”

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And then I met these people. That day they only wanted to do one thing and that was to participate in the midterm elections. They endured intense heat and long lines, hoping that they could hop on a bus and reach their hometowns in time for the elections. Some of these people traveled almost 1,000 kilometers just to reach their hometowns. And many even spent the night at the terminal so they could leave for their provinces early. At the end of the day, they were doing all of these just to be able to exercise their right to suffrage. And so I told their stories. Rappler and GMA News picked up the story. But it didn’t end there.

My story on the election exodus started an online discussion on how far you would go for the country. And we heard more stories of voters who were willing to travel long and far just to do their part in nation building. And it is this kind of people that would inspire you to do the same—to go out and vote. These people went out of their way just to cast a single vote—and that single vote is important—because the fate of our nation and the more than 98 million Filipinos lies on that vote, on that decision.

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And on Election Day, we saw a deluge of photos, of selfies on social media showing that ink-tainted fingernail. “I voted. We voted.”

And I believe that just by seeing countless people posting photos of their ink-tainted fingernail and hearing stories of people who traveled long and far just to vote somehow moved those who didn’t want to vote, those who were lazy——to actually go out, vote, and also post #selfies showing their ink-tainted fingernail as well as share their voting experience. You know, and that is to show the world that they’ve actually voted, and that you should do your part too.

My whole point here is that you don’t need to meet famous personalities just so you could tell stories that could inspire, that could make people act or move. There are so many things that one can learn from the stories of ordinary people, your community, the people around you. You really don’t have to go out of your way. All you have to do is to look around you. Maybe the person seated next to you has an inspiring story waiting to be told.

So every time you post something on social media, allow people to take a peek not only into your life as an individual or as a citizen, but allow them also to take a peek into your community, the society we live in.

Share stories that would not just inform people or make them aware of something but also stories that would actually move them into action, stories that could inspire them to stand up and take action. And in that way, in my own little way or your own little way, we can make a difference.

And we all know that it is through collective action that we could actually shape our community or our society’s future. So now I want to end my talk by giving you a challenge.

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You own a smartphone, a camera or a gadget that can take photos and access the Internet? Then make a difference because you have in your hand a powerful tool—a very very powerful tool. So use it. Or maybe I should say, use them.

With that, thank you very much for listening. I hope you all have a productive day ahead of you. And may we all continue making a difference for a free and just society.