Thursday, 4:30 PM
Offer has phone ringing off the hook
By Lisa Wangsness, Globe staff
Ryan Fitzgerald, an unemployed 20-year-old who lives with his father in Southbridge, considers himself easy to talk to.
Late Friday, he made it a whole lot easier.
Seized with a desire to "be there" for -- well, everyone -- he posted a video with his cell phone number on YouTube, urging anybody anywhere who wanted to talk for any reason to give him a call.
"I never met you, but I do care," the spiky-haired young man told the world, looking earnestly into the camera.
By Sunday afternoon, he had gotten more than 5,000 phone calls and text messages from around the world. Monday morning at 5 a.m., the free "weekend" minutes on his T-Mobile service were scheduled to run out.
"I havenít quite figured out what Iím going to do about it," he said. "But something needs to be done, because Iím going to end up with a $20,000 phone bill."
Ryan Fitzgerald has had so many text messages he canít respond to them. On Saturday afternoon, he turned the phone to "vibrate" so he could go to a concert by the band Hawthorne Heights, but he said he tries to call back many of those who leave him voice messages. He pledges to keep it up for as long as he can, despite the expense.
"Come Monday, no way Iím going to just hang up on people and say, ĎI donít have the minutes'," he said.
Fitzgerald said he was inspired to act by a video of Juan Mann, whose "Free Hugs" campaign became world famous after video clips of Mann hugging strangers appeared on YouTube. Fitzgerald said he wanted to try a twist on the theme of random human connection.
"Some peopleís own mothers wonít 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, youíre not a stranger anymore, youíre a new kid I just met."
Fitzgerald wasnít the first to broadcast his phone number to hundreds of millions of people. Luke Johnson, a man with shaggy blond hair from Arizona, posted his number on YouTube last September, just to see how many calls he would get. (The answer: more than 138,400 and counting, according to Johnsonís latest voicemail recording.)
But Fitzgerald says his mission is different from Johnsonís -- it is about genuine human interaction, he says, not about sheer volume.
Fitzgerald graduated from high school nearly two years ago. He said he used to think he would study computers, but his YouTube experiment has made him think he might excel in a people-oriented field, such as human resources or psychology.
"I love talking to people," he said. "I just love helping people."