Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Blessings And Curses Of Facebook

Saturday morning I sat in my chair "thumbing" through the April issue of Real Simple magazine on my iPad.  I had recently downloaded the app and was making sure that I could indeed access my subscription just as the print version said I would be able to do. 

I was reading "the Simple List" column when I came across this:

The average number of people linking any two strangers, according to scientists from Facebook and the University of Milan, who studied 721 million Facebook users.  That's quite a status update to the six-degrees-of-separation theory of psychologist Stanley Milgram.  In 1967 the professor asked a group of volunteers to send a document to a random Massachusetts resident via people they thought might know him.  Milgram found that the process required about six jumps for the document to reach its intended recipient.  The population may be expanding, but the world is getting smaller.

I shared this tidbit with Jim who was sitting next to me in his chair.

"That means an event that happens in California can be known in New York in a matter of minutes."  he said.

"Yeah," I agreed.  "And not just big events but any odd or random thing."

We briefly discussed the wonder of social media and then, as the commercial break was over, he went back to watching someone deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida while I perused the April issue of Real Simple on my iPad.

Sunday afternoon around 2:30, I "thumbed" through my Facebook page to see what everyone was up to on this first weekend of summer.  (At least, it was our first official weekend of summer as school had just been released on Wednesday.)

There among the recital pictures of a friend's granddaughter and the updates from Austin about the State Softball Championship (which Deer Park won), was a simple statement posted by an extended family member, "Headed to tha river!".  I remember smiling as I read that and thinking to myself, "I hope they have fun."  You see, I was sitting at home alone while Jim and the boys were off playing golf.

At around 8:10 Sunday evening I received a phone call from Kelli.  "Mom, what's going on in Arkansas?"  I didn't know...hadn't heard anything.  I had been busy watching Food Network and HGTV all afternoon, so I hadn't even checked my Facebook again.  She said that one of my cousins had asked for prayer for our Arkansas family.

After assuring Kelli that I would make some phone calls and get back with her, I checked my phone.  Sure enough there was a text message from my cousin in Michigan that had arrived about 15 minutes earlier asking me if I had heard the bad news.  I texted her first and then decided to just call, but couldn't reach her.  I checked Facebook myself and I knew.  I didn't know what...and I didn't know how...but I knew who.  "Headed to tha river!" had not turned out to be the fun day I had hoped for them.

I called my dad who lives two houses away from them.  He didn't know anything about it.  I called my cousin again, this time a few answers.  I called my dad back to share the news.  He made a few phone calls and when we spoke again we realized that this tragedy had just happened and the family had not all been notified yet. 

It was well past midnight before I was able to get any sleep Sunday night.  Piece meal reports of the health of family members were coming in via texts and private Facebook messages.  I was at once grateful for and appalled by the Facebook posts that I read.  Rumors spread quickly.  Names are given of the deceased and the injured when the families have not yet been notified.  And injuries are blown all out of proportion.  BUT, I was also able to know who was where and thus who could give me accurate information and who only had hearsay. 

I think the most shocking thing for me (besides the loss my family was suffering) was how interconnected my Facebook friends really are.  One of Jim's classmates commented on my second cousin's post and I had no idea they even knew each other.  Old friends from junior high school were commenting about the other people involved in the accident from which I was able to fit the bits and pieces together of what was going on with my own family over time.  The distance between me and Southeast Arkansas seemed HUGE and yet, through Facebook, my world seemed small indeed.

I really don't think that much about it all when I am reading the good news...the births, the graduations, viewing the holiday and vacation photos.  But when tragedy strikes, Facebook is both a blessing and a curse.  I was reminded of how we shared updates on the loss of our granddaughter through private Facebook messages to family.  It was a blessing to only have to type the information once and simply copy all.  At the same time, my heart hurt as I read the pleas of family members asking people not to comment with names and rumors while the family was still scrambling to understand the extent of loss and injury.

I guess my point to all of this is that I never want to be guilty of hurting anyone through my Facebook posts.  I tend to err on the side of caution and send private messages because I myself am a private person.  (So why do I have a blog then, right???)  I want to be a blessing...both on Facebook and this blog.  If I should ever inadvertantly (and I assure you, if it happens it will not be intentional), so if I should ever inadvertanly cause you harm by something said here or on not hesitiate to let me know.

Honestly, the degrees-of-separation are often much less than 6 or even let's be careful of what we share while remaining authentic in our love and concern for one another.

Much love,

1 comment:

Stacy said...

you are right - it is so easy to not be as sensitive when writing something as when you talk with someone. I am so sorry for the loss of your family member!