Today, I turned 16. It's an important day for me since I can move forward with my drivers license in California. For teenagers in the US , there are couple of milestone dates; 16 for the driver's license, 18 for casting our vote and 21 when officially parental guidance drops off the radar. Luckily, this year , my birthday fell on a sunday i.e. Oct 29, 2017.
When my parents mentioned couple of days ago that there is an opportunity to volunteer at Salvation Army Santa Rosa Corps Community Center on my birthday, I instantly said "Yes". Like everybody else, I was devastated to follow the progression of the Wine Country fire in California on all news channels that started on Oct 9th, 2017. The picture below shows the burned area in Santa Rosa, California, Oct. 11, 2017. (ref: Phys.org)
All 4 of us (my dad, mom, sister and me) went to the Salvation Army Center at 10 am after being in the car for 2 hours.
On Highway 12, I witnessed the devastation that has affected the lives of so many families. I took pictures of what used to be a beautiful house and now only charred remains cover the grounds. People have lost their memories that they build in those homes. It was really sad to see the destruction.
42 souls lost their lives in the fire and though the final reports are not in, the estimated property damage would go into billions of dollars. We are talking about statistics here. But there is no quantifiable measure of personal loss suffered by thousands of people in that area. All lost within a matter of hours.
The Salvation Army Santa Rosa Corps Community Center is full of energy and is filled with volunteers from all over the US, including locals who have come to the center to help.
All of us volunteered in the warehouse to sort through the donations , make crates and label them. Donations included diapers, soap, lotions, toiletries, shoes and many many more. The better part of the day , we categorized items in boxes for further disposition.
Above picture shows the amazing volume of donation received from all over the US and locally in support of the victims of the fire and help them to re-settle.
What you see in pictures is ground zero of volunteerism and common sense human touch. I am amazed and proud that the first responders to help are always humans and not technology. People have donated whatever they could to help. The real challenge lies in the logistics of sorting, tagging and shipping to the right place at the right time. People in need may not receive the help at the right time, if we don't act fast. While I pushed around crates, I kept thinking if this can be done in an easier and better way. More I thought about it, I was lost. Why am I thinking this way? I am feeling much better in the warehouse by being there and sorting the goods in the right way - the old fashioned way. I was feeling really good that I am contributing and trying to make a difference. Why would I want that to be taken away from me? There is no purpose in life without such a feeling.
Too much technology have already taken away our compassionate human touch and 1:1 relationships. Me being a teenager I am also guilty of holding the mobile phone 24/7. Sometimes I feel that this has been shoved down our throat without us needing the technology to survive. Maybe we are solving problems with technology , that may not be a problem in our lives? In this case, there are millions of donated items that needed to be sorted correctly, re-packaged and re-purposed for shipment within days. How can a machine distinguish correctly all the articles that is donated and how it needs to be repackaged correctly and distributed to the right place? When disaster strikes , human hands are the best and the fastest way to give a sense of comfort. Volunteering to help others in need, serves a higher purpose in life. Technology will only deprive us from being HUMAN!
First of all, I am neither an expert on these domains. But as a 16 year old with access to the internet, I take daily shower of amazing buzz-words that float around me. I have been tinkering with technology from a very young age. I admired some of the amazing comments and articles like; "Software is eating the world" (Andreesen Horowitz) , "Will AI take over" (Newsweek Article), Where machines could replace humans—and where they can’t (yet) (McKinsey Article).
I read a lot of new developments and was amazed how the technology world keeps on pushing forward at lightning speed to look for the next big thing. I live in silicon valley that is both a boon and a curse at the same time. I am also a Junior in high school and planning for college. What I see is making me nervous regarding my career choice. I found the McKinsey article full of interesting information. Check it out, it's an interesting data driven approach for young people like me on the cusp of choosing their career.
After today, while coming back from volunteering. I started reflecting on the kind of life I will have in the future. I had more questions about where we as a human race is heading and the over dependency on technology to solve all our problems as promised by the visionaries. We are losing touch with each other in our quest to make our life easier. I am a teenager and I am on Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter and will probably be on new ones which is yet to come up. But at the end of the day , I don't want to lose my purpose in life.
I want to have a life where HUMAN TOUCH is important and Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Robots are just ADD ON's to help me find a higher purpose in life. Not take over my life.
I am going back to volunteer again soon, who wants to join me?This blog was originally posted on Linkedin on Oct 30, 2017.