Ryan Fitzgerald, an unemployed 20-year-old who lives with his father, had a little bit of free time on his hands. Deciding he wanted to “be there” for anyone who wanted to chat, Ryan posted a video on the video sharing website YouTube. Saying “I never met you, but I do care,” Fitzgerald posted his cell phone number and waited for people to call.
And they did. Since posting his number on Friday, Fitzgerald received more than 5,000 phone calls and text messages from people from around the world. The only problem: Fitzgerald’s free weekend minutes ran out Monday morning at 5:00 AM.
“I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do about it,” Fitzgerald said. “Come Monday, no way I’m going to just hang up on people and say, ‘I don’t have the minutes.'” For Fitzgerald, this means the possibility of a rather large phone bill. “Something needs to be done,” he says. “Because I’m going to end up with a $20,000 phone bill.”
Fitzgerald was inspired in part by two others, Juan Mann, who started a “Free Hugs” campaign where Mann would walk up to complete strangers and give them hugs, and Luke Johnson, who posted his number last September, with the simple goal of finding out how many people would actually call. For Johnson, the number is somewhere just south of 140,000, but sheer volume wasn’t Fitzgerald’s goal.
“Some people’s own mothers won’t take the time to sit down and talk with them and have a conversation,” he said. “But some stranger on YouTube will. After six seconds, you’re not a stranger anymore, you’re a new kid I just met.”
Fitzgerald says some of the calls, from people as close as Maine and as far away as Denmark, range from people just wanting to chat about their plans that day, to others who get into deeper topics. One, a man from Sweden, called Fitzgerald just to thank him for “trying to make a difference.”
How does Fitzgerald’s family feel about this? Mixed reviews, so far. Fitzgerald’s father is a clinical psychologist, and is so upset with his son that he has, so far, refused all interview requests. “My dad is a doubter,” Fitzgerald says.
Fitzgerald’s twin brother – Sean – on the other hand, thinks Ryan’s recent exposure could help with their goals of becoming actors and models. Even Sean, however, was a bit surprised at how many calls his brother has received. “Who wants to talk to a complete stranger?” he asked.
So, where does this all end? Fitzgerald is unsure. He has set his phone to vibrate, and while he is unable to answer every phone call at once due to the more expensive, weekday minutes, he does promise to return calls from everyone who leaves a message. And as for his father’s disapproval? Ryan, who had once planned to study computers, says this experience may push him into a field of study close to his father’s heart: human resources, or perhaps even psychology.
“I love talking to people,” Ryan says. “I just love helping people.”