As the world tries to understand the minds of millennials, Lakshya Datta ’11 created a window into those minds, and a venue where their thoughts, feelings and experiences become stories shared the world over.
But Datta didn’t always have a passion for stories. Before leaving his native India for UC San Diego, his experience with creative writing was a single SAT essay. The writing bug hit in his sophomore year, after he asked his Sixth College writing professor if he could pen a short story for his final exam. Throughout his college career, Datta became interested in the different modes of storytelling, taking courses in film and playwriting and letting fiction writing become an important aspect of his daily routine. “It’s how I process life,” he says, “how I press ‘save’ at the end of my day.”
One year after graduation, Datta opened his laptop and discovered a folder of the stories he saved back in college. “I asked myself, ‘Why is this just sitting in my computer? Why isn’t this on a website, somewhere where people can tell me if it’s any good?’” This simple idea led him to create Launchora, an online community of storytellers where anyone can be a writer and benefit from telling their story, regardless of background or experience. “You don’t need a master’s in playwriting to tell a story,” says Datta. “We let people come and tell us what kind of storytellers they want to be, and then we build a unique journey for the different paths they want to take.”
Originally intended for American users, Datta’s concept was transformed when he decided to launch the site from India. “It instantly made me think globally,” he says. “I hoped to create a global community that is positive, inclusive, nonjudgmental, supportive and collaborative.” And as an international platform, Launchora soon fostered connections all across the globe from about 150 countries each week, with the most users coming from India and the Philippines.
What Datta did not expect, however, was the distinctive demographic of those who would participate on the platform. A majority of creators on Launchora are between the ages of 13 and 26—the enigmatic millennial generation. A read through their featured work reveals insights into their lives, with common themes of love, loneliness and heartbreak coming through. And while these experiences appear to be universal among users, they are equally transformative. The community is fueled further by the support the storytellers provide for each other. “There is a comfort in knowing you’re not alone,” says Datta. “And with the internet, you could be in different continents but still have a special connection with someone who has been through similar experiences.”
This unique perspective has given Datta the unexpected role as a quasi-social scientist, with Launchora as the lens revealing insights on what we can learn about the youth of today and what that means for the future. So far, what he’s found is a community of people who are courageous, accepting and self-aware. The stories shared on his site paint a picture of young people undeterred by the past and hopeful about the future. “If you explore the things you’re afraid of, you can take the power away from those things and use it to benefit you and your path.” Datta says. “I’ve learned that by reading these stories. The community on the site—the young people of today—they’re fearless. They may be worried about things, but they are not afraid.”
As for Datta, the chance to foster storytelling around the world has led his own life in a direction he never expected, and he’s excited to see where it leads. Or, as he states on his own Launchora profile: “Sometimes I think I’m trapped in a story that’s already been written. I write to find my way out.”