Last Thursday my grandmother passed away. She had been ill, and was 93 years old so it wasn’t a shock, but it was still a sad occasion, obviously. I was teaching an online course for a client on the West Coast so while I found out during an afternoon break, I wasn’t really done working until close to 8PM my time. So it was a bit later when I got time to return phone messages, after which I turned to Facebook as a way to let some of my friends know what was going on.
When I got there that night, something interesting was in the process of happening. I took a look at the Facebook profiles of a couple of my cousins, and realized that we were all doing the same thing. We spent much of the night looking at Facebook, sharing stories and photos with each other. Even though we are spread all over the place, the technology of Facebook allowed some of us to connect right in that moment and mourn our grandmother, instead of having to wait for all of us to travel to the funeral.
As it turns out, it was also the day that Nelson Mandela passed away, which made it even more interesting. Not only were my cousins, aunts, uncles and I sharing thoughts about my grandmother that night, but much of the rest of the world was also sharing thoughts and stories about Mandela on Facebook and Twitter. I got a really good glimpse at the ability of the internet to connect us during a world event, and to connect a small group over their own event, at the same time.
It was a vivid reminder of why I started a website in the first place and why I still see online social networking as such a powerful force for good in our lives. Sure, it has the potential to be a dangerous place too. Just like any relationship, we have to be careful who we connect with. But it also provides us with a chance to connect with people who share our interests regardless of geography. Whereas in the past when there had been a death in my family, I would find out about it and then spend the evening apart from my family, and only really get to share those stories and memories if I could happen to travel for the funeral, this time all of us could jump on Facebook in different states and across time zones, and connect.
Think about that for a minute. Thanks to the internet, we’ve eliminated the obstacles of distance and finding a mutual time to talk, or the time it would take for mail to get delivered, when it comes to staying in touch. We’ve even eliminated the obstacles of not having someone to share ideas and thoughts with. You’d be hard pressed to find a subject that someone isn’t blogging about, or doesn’t come up on Twitter. When a world event like the passing of Nelson Mandela occurs, we turn to Twitter to see what other people are saying about it, or get more information. When it’s something closer to home, we turn to the same place, where we can communicate with the group all at once.
I’m very glad that Facebook helped me stay in contact with my family at a crucial time, and I’m very glad that being part of the online world has helped me stay in touch with far-flung friends and family. I’m just as glad that being part of this online world has brought people into my life who I wouldn’t have met anywhere else. Both of those things have made all the spam, technical issues, and trolls worth it.