Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Social Media and the Hope for Connection

I'm not sure if it's polite to say this, but Facebook is a time-suck.

I climb on the machine at home after work and hours later, I look up to see the sun has set, the lights have come on and the neighborhood has gone quiet. The cats are snoozing quietly (though that happens during the rest of the non-Facebook part of the day). The laundry hasn't gotten folded, the kitchen is still a mess and I can't focus my vision more than an arm's-length in front of me.

Don't get me wrong. I love the results. I get to chat with Valerie and Nikki whenever we're on the computer together. (I've handled three online conversations simultaneously, with the added degree of difficulty of their father calling out what he wants me to type on his behalf.) I am thrilled by the way Facebook connects me to the people I love. I also enjoy sharing information, making comments, taking quizzes, posting news stories, sharing videos.... the list goes on. And the photos. For the love of all that's holy, the photos!

However, Facebook is not my only source for relationships. What does Facebook mean for those people?

Today I read about how the elderly who use computers can feel less isolated if they join an online community. Now, housebound and elderly people can create new relationships without leaving the safety and comfort of their homes ("Online, A Reason to Keep Going," New York Times, June 2, 2009).

If I was alone, and frail, and frightened, I would hunger for connecting with people I knew from back in the day, or people like me who were alone and needed friends. Thank heavens for the Internet in those cases.

My 80-year-old mother-in-in-law is fortunate. When she moved to Florida from her hometown in New York, she moved with many of her childhood friends, and others joined them in the following years. Few people can claim that circumstance. Had her situation been different, would she have found herself relying on the computer for companionship?

I cannot fathom that life. I have daily exposure to people outside my own home. I spend time in an office with people, I talk to strangers on the phone (wait, that sounds wrong). I interact with people in public places. Even when I was housebound for a month last summer, I was not isolated because my friends and family are mobile and social, like I am. I can't imagine what it would be like to know the only human contact I would have on a given day would be the grocery cashier — and that's only if I made it out of the front door.

Facebook can bring people together in ways we couldn't have imagined when this whole Internet and Web "fad" started a decade and a half ago. True, it can isolate us as easily, but let's hope we use it for the good it can bring us.

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