“We’re praying for you!”
Four words, posted to a Facebook “wall” with the greatest of intentions. A simple, direct communication from me to a cousin in the wake of a family emergency. But I suddenly wondered: How much comfort and support do four words posted to a Facebook page actually convey?
While nowhere near epiphanic in scope or scale, that thought led me down a rabbit hole I hadn’t considered: Has social media disconnected society – and has it done so in a particularly bad way?
My cousin – someone I’d been close with when we were kids – had just suffered a severe illness, and all I could muster in support were four words on social media.
A few days earlier, I reconnected with a friend from my Army days, someone I hadn’t spoken to in two decades. It’d been so long that I almost didn’t accept his friend request because I couldn’t place the face. We chatted online for more than two hours, attempting to bridge 20+ years of career and family one truncated sentence at a time. It was good to catch up.
But was it, really?
How much do we really know about each other? How much of the “now” us did we convey, all the while talking (well, typing) to someone as if through a time machine? Much as I try, when I think of my new old pal, I don’t see a 40-year-old father of three.
All I see is that 18-year-old kid with a goofy grin.
I’ll admit that my mood while writing this may be skewed by the fact that my cousin recovering in the ICU is only two years older than me. The words “there but for the grace of God” keep crossing my mind. But the clarity that comes with concern (and selfish fear) is no less clear.
Or is it?
Ironically, my Army buddy probably wouldn’t have linked up with even 10 years ago. Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible even WITH social media. In those days, I was the original invisible man. I didn’t own a phone. If you didn’t catch me at work, chances are you wouldn’t catch me. When I was off the clock, I was off the grid.
And my cousin? Not long ago, word of his trouble might eventually filter through the hotline to my parents, who would eventually call to let me know. And, once knowing, my wife would send flowers if appropriate. And, while we would certainly pray for my cousin and his family, I can’t imagine tracking him down just to say so.
Reading my cousin’s Facebook, I found dozens of notes of support and concern. Some, like me, offer prayers. Others offered all kinds of help. It really is a blessing to know that my cousin has so many loving and supportive friends there for him, both personally and virtually. Seeing that helped me realize that my own concerns about social media are at least somewhat unfounded.
Through Facebook (and Twitter, though I still don’t Instagram or Snap), I am more involved in the lives of friends and distant relatives and their families than ever before. Instead of the every-third-year family get-together, we exchange email, we chat, we DM. And even when we’re not directly conversing, we’re sharing the details of our lives via tweets, status updates, photos, memes and – my personal favorite – political bickering.
The simple truth is That while social media, like any tool, can be misused, at its core it doesn’t isolate; it connects – and reconnects. And I am thankful for it.
I know what you’re thinking... all of this from four words on a wall?