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'Crowdsourcing' as Key to the Meaning of Life

August 9, 2012 By:
Marc Erlbaum, JE Feature
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Humanity has been searching for "the meaning of life" from the beginning of time, but it could be argued that today -- with global terrorism, ecological disasters, civil unrest and economic meltdowns -- life is more perplexing than ever before. If we don't find answers to the big questions now, there may soon be no life left to interpret.

At the same time, life today offers far more opportunity than at any point in history. Our current ability to communicate, collaborate and innovate is unprecedented. Revolutionary technological discoveries are leading to ever more frequent breakthroughs in medicine, agriculture and telecommunications. Viral videos show deaf people hearing for the first time, children in remote African villages turning on their first electric light, tribesmen in the Amazon speaking on smart phones.

On the brink of the abyss, we are poised to resolve the conundrums that have perennially perplexed us. It is only through collaboration that we will be able to do so, and the intricate interconnectedness of the global web we have spun provides us with the mechanism for this type of cooperation across any and all borders.

With these exciting new tools at our disposal, the question is only whether we have the will to use them for the sake of the common good. The recent discovery of the "God particle" provides an encouraging nod to the affirmative -- more than 1,000 scientists from around the world worked together to achieve this groundbreaking discovery at CERN, the nuclear research group based in Switzerland.

On a less institutional level, there are countless examples of individuals around the world coming together online to join in a common purpose. One of the most iconic of these is composer Eric Whitacre's "virtual choir," in which he invited singers from a dozen countries to submit videos of themselves singing one of his compositions, and then edited over 200 of the submissions together to create a breathtaking global piece of art.

Additionally, it is common knowledge that the uprisings in Egypt were fomented by a Facebook campaign that galvanized thousands of disenfranchised youths. More recently, a "crowdfunding" campaign on the site Indiegogo managed to raise a remarkable $700,000 for a woman who was verbally abused by the schoolchildren she monitored on a bus.

Crowdfunding is a remarkable development in what is being touted as the new "gift economy." People are contributing to creative and/or cause-based campaigns for no financial gain, but simply because they are moved to help and are anxious to participate in a shared experience.

As a filmmaker, it is fascinating and thrilling to watch this new model emerge. Having produced several traditionally funded feature films, I have recently teamed up with a group of content creators to test the new waters of global collaboration. We have launched a "Meaning of Life" campaign in which we have set out to crowdsource life's biggest question through an ongoing collection of short films that deal with the themes of meaning and purpose from a diverse array of perspectives.

We have been gratified to be joined by hundreds of participants and contributors who are as optimistic and curious as we are. As filmmakers, we use our cameras and our love of storytelling to provoke introspection and exploration of the world outside the box. Participants from other fields have joined in by making micro-contributions to cover the cost of production in order to help tell and share these meaningful, inspiring stories.

It is our firm belief that humanity is on the verge of uncovering answers and solutions that have eluded us for millenia. The global chorus of voices will create a sound of unprecedented beauty and profundity, and the pleasure of common experience will engender further desire for collaboration.

As a media creator and a Jew who seeks every opportunity to fuse my spirituality with my professional work, I am certainly encouraged by the current trends and thrilled to be living and working at this exciting time. "Crowdsourcing the Meaning of Life" enables us to take advantage of the best the modern age has to offer in order to explore that which is universal and essential.

Visit www.lifemeanswhat.com to see samples of the videos already created and to participate.

Marc Erlbaum is a writer, director and producer based in Bala Cynwyd. He is also the co-founder of the Jewish Relief Agency.

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