Every once in a while I’m reminded of how awesome the Internet is

I woke up this morning, early, to an email from my mother-in-law pointing me to this:

It’s the story of a 9-year-old boy who built an arcade out of cardboard boxes in his dad’s used auto parts shop. Kids at school teased him about it, and he had zero customers, but he had built something awesome. A filmmaker happened to stop by one day, was (rightfully) amazed, and did a short film about it, including organizing a flash mob to help get Caine some customers.  Simple, and totally awesome in its own right.  Since then:

“• Over $231,000 has been raised for Caine’s Scholarship Fund (which has been officially & formally set up!) thanks to over 19,000 individual donors
• Over 7 million views on YouTube and Vimeo
• Over 1 million views on our Part 2 followup Video
• Launched the Imagination Foundation and our first annual Global Cardboard Challenge with over 270 events in 41 countries engaging tens-of-thousands of kids worldwide in creative play.
• Caine was the youngest ever entrepreneur to speak at USC Marshall School of Business, Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and recently spoke at TEDxTeen hosted by Chelsea Clinton. Caine also received the Latino Spirit Award from the California State Assembly, and a cardboard key to the city.
• Thousands and thousands of visitors to Caine’s Arcade (he still gets hundreds of customers every week!)
• Launching an Imagination campaign to engage 1 million kids in creative play”

…. which led me to revisiting Kid President, a youtube star who helped publicize Caine’s story.  I had forgotten about Kid President — he’s a young person (11 years old now) who gives amazing video pep talks (like this one for moms).  Turns out Kid has his own amazing story — he suffers from Osteogensis Imperfecta, or “brittle bone disease”, an incurable disease resulting in a lifetime of broken bones.  But he has compensated with an outsized positive outlook:

… which led me to checking out SoulPancake, Rainn Wilson’s production company which now backs Kid President, and which is dedicated to “chewing on life’s big questions.”

… which reminded me of my other favorite youtubers, the Gregory Brothers, who have made incredible  incredible videos “songifying” the news and other videos (my favorite is Double Rainbow, a songification of this).  Here is their behind-the-scenes look:

… at the process that resulted in this — the songified final 2012 presidential debate:

… the point of all this being: holy shit!  Kids. Making amazing stuff.  Making the world better.  Building huge audiences.  I am awestruck and inspired.

And then, I start thinking about how amazing it is that this is possible.  Because on the internet, everyone has a voice and can reach the world — being a 9-year-old kid building an elaborate box arcade isn’t weird, it’s fantastic.  Having an incurable bone disease isn’t a death sentence, it’s an opportunity to inspire people.  Being a crazy musical/artistic/geeky family isn’t strange, it’s awesome.

And then, I remember that it hasn’t always been this way.  Before the internet, none of these stories would have happened. None of the tens of millions of people who’ve been touched by them would have been reached.  Connecting to the world required the permission of a big company, like a record label, TV network, or movie studio.

And finally, I remember that it might not always be this way.  The “openness” of the internet — the ability for anyone to reach everyone, on equal terms — isn’t something we can take for granted.  It’s very much in contention.  It’s a battle — and one that we might not win, unless we get equal parts inspired, pissed, and organized.

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