johnA few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic John Styn at SXSW Interactive.  I was fascinated by John’s Hug Nation.  Schools across the country are banning all physical contact between students – including hugs.  I find that teenagers need hugs – they need physical contact.  In fact, we all need hugs, regardless of our age, but teenagers are in a place of re-learning how to touch and be touched respectfully as they enter their adult bodies.  I wanted to do some investigating into how Hug Nation might fit into this, so I tracked John down with some questions.

Hi John!  Could you start off by introducing yourself a bit?  Who IS John Styn?

I’m someone who has been living a very public life online for a long time.  From the early homepages, to blogs to webcams, to online video, to social media… I’ve spent the last decade running after the ever unfolding digital frontier.   Currently I host HugNation every Tuesday and am hosting the new “Fears. Regrets. Desires.” on NBC.com.

Can you explain Hug Nation?

I’ll try. :)
A normal hug is when two individuals dissolve into a single loving embrace.
Hug Nation attempts this concept on a grand scale.
It isn’t a physical embrace, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
It is a gesture of intention. It is saying, “We are far more alike than we are different”
People meet in a chatroom at a specific time every week and take a couple minutes to recalibrate:
“No matter what you hear on the news, the vast majority of the world would rather hug you than hurt you.”
We hug ourselves, think of all the others also hugging themselves.
Plus we encourage people to hug themselves WHEREVER they are 1pm (pacific) on Tuesdays.  Or  release the energy later when they watch the archive.

A lot of my work is with teenagers and parents of teenagers – do you think Hug Nation is a good place for teens?

That is a really interesting question.   I think it depends on the teen and their parent.  Can I ask a parent to answer this for me?  :)

(Side note from Karen: I’m going to stay out of the fray for the moment, but I’m interested in what some of the parents who are readers think about Hug Nation.  Is it a place you would feel comfortable with your teenagers being online?)


Parents are often pretty suspicious of their teenagers’ online interactions, but you talk about how the web can bring us together in good ways.  How does this apply or not apply to children and teenagers?

The web makes the whole world into neighbors.  What an amazingly powerful shift! Understanding is the best way to dissolve fear.  I marvel when I see kids playing online video games against (or better yet, with) people from other cultures and countries.

And while my experience has been filled with overwhelmingly positive introductions to amazing neighbors, occasionally jerks ruin the party.
So, like in real life,  we have to lock our doors and keep an eye on the kids.

To some people,  *I* may be one of the scary neighbors.  (I don’t think anyone who met me would think that, but people are rightfully protective of their kids.
I have posed nude (and worse) on the net.  I did so transparently (I even lived 2 years in a webcam house) and with integrity.  But for some, any history of adult activities is probably enough to want me far from their kid.

It should be up to each parent to decide what they think they’re kid should be exposed to.  For some parents Creationism is a taboo subject.  For other’s birth control. I would think I lie somewhere in the middle.   But since I have no kids of my own, I’m hesitant to say.

Regardless of where a parent draws their lines, they are still responsible for teaching their kids how to evaluate and be critical of what they are exposed to online (and anywhere.)  Including HugNation.

Over the past few years there has been a surge in the number of Middle Schools and High Schools banning physical contact between students – in many places this includes any and all hugs.  What do you think about these kinds of rules?

So sad.   A few years ago a 13 year old wrote to my grandpa after her school banned hugs.  She inspired a “I am huggable” protest & meetup.  Her mom said it wonderfully, I think, “There are many things in this world my child needs protection from.  Hugs is not one of them.” (full story: http://hugnation.com/huggable/)

And lastly, why pink?  Not that I or my purple hair object, but the question remains.

Originally, I was drawn the the anti-macho-ness of it.  (This was years before a pink shirt could pass as “Metro.”)

But it began to stand for much more.  I see it as the color of hugs.  It has all the “love” of red, without it’s aggression.  Plus, we’re all pink on the inside.
:)

Thanks, John!