It’s no secret that social media has became a major player in how people consume goods, interact with others, perceive the world, and in many ways, affect who they are.
While it has certainly allowed people to connect with others from all over the world and from all different backgrounds, the colossal cultural giant has also negatively impacted perceptions in more ways than one. Cyber bullying, unrealistic body standards and the culture of mass consumerism riddle the medium with enough psychological bombardment that many people have chosen to simply opt out. Others, however, can’t seem to get enough.
Ponte Vedra entrepreneur Peter Makris dreams about being a social media influencer. Yet, he doesn’t plan on selling you B-12 shots, smoothie bowls, loungewear, vacation packages or makeup palettes photographed with Snapchat filters. Makris is actually hoping he can just influence you to be a good person. Not exactly trending, right?
Pay It Forward, or PIFOR.org, is Makris’ solution for social networking fatigue. The burgeoning new platform operates under the concept of nurturing a user’s compassion by allowing for the propagation of kindness over a community of interwoven connections. One could say it’s basically a benevolent Facebook (Or, perhaps, Empathy-gram or Tender?). The idea is that not only can users raise awareness for their own causes, but they can share their own contributions to the community, which in turn affects others to do the same.
Makris said he knows the concept works — simply because he’s seen it firsthand.
The idea came to him after a trip to New York, where he was visiting his family. He was headed back home one evening, and, just like any other night, he decided to call an Uber for a ride. That night a man named Isaac Gyamera picked him up.
“The conversation started flowing,” Makris said.
Gyamera is originally from Ghana. He left the county to come to America when he was in his 20s with his wife and parents. At first, he said the adjustment was really difficult.
“(There was) so many differences in the way (Americans) talk and their words,” Gyamera said. “Some are insults but others are not. It was the way they eat, the way they work. The way they react to people … everything. It’s like if someone was sick and they were lying on the floor, over here you don't go near that person? In Africa, if you see someone lying down on the floor (homeless), it’s right to help that person.”
When Gyamera met Makris, he had just had his son and was thinking about how he was going to celebrate his birthday with his family after his shift. With Makris he shared stories about his life in Ghana and his family, but he didn’t mention his birthday.
As they arrived at his destination, Makris suddenly had the inclination to give Gyamera a substantial tip, about $200 to be precise.
“Usually when I go up to New York I don't spend a lot of money, so I had some extra cash in my pocket,” Makris said.
That gesture not only ensured Gyamera had a nice meal out with his family that night, it earned Makris a friend for life. Currently, the two text and call almost every day.
“It was a very happy day for me,” Gyamera said.
For Makris, the feeling of helping someone was almost addicting.
“The way society is now, all over the place people kind of box (other) people,” Makris said. “People that are different, you know, they assassinate their character and they don't really know what's (in their heart). People only look at people from the surface. So, I said, I think we need more goodness in this world.”
PIFOR.org differentiates itself from other social media platforms by only encouraging charitable causes and volunteerism. It allows users to easily find and participate in causes that are locally active as well as promote ones they believe in. Causes are registered within the database and vetted in order to keep accountability. Makris said there will be no direct fundraising on the site.
“It's really about connecting humans and about humanity, which is what I think we should get back to, and not the layers and layers of garbage,” Makris said. “I want to open my newsfeed in the morning and hear positive stories. (Lately the news) is all garbage. It just fills (the newsfeed) and influences people in the wrong way. I want the reason why I bought the site is that you go on and you’re looking at stories that are uplifting and that'll change your day. It will change it.”
Gyamera said he hopes that one day the application will help emotionally connect not only those living in the same neighborhoods and towns, but those living across the world.
“It’s not only Ghana, it’s so many countries,” Gyamera said.
For him, the hungry, poor and hurt in Africa might as well be his neighbors. Unlike most people, because he has seen it firsthand, he doesn’t feel any significant distance from himself and the devastation that also exists worlds away. Gyamera said he hopes the borders between people will lessen with technology aimed at shortening that distance.
“There’s so many countries,” he emphasized.
Yet, Gyamera knows that every act counts, just as it did for him the two years ago when he met Makris. Every small act that a person does causes a ripple effect that can go on longer than anyone could possibly imagine. In some cases, you might never even know that today just happened to be a complete stranger’s birthday. If you ask Gyamera, he likes to say often, “Everybody needs help, everybody.”