Archive for August 2011

The human condition in virtual reality

August 24, 2011

I was recently put back in touch, through Facebook, with people I knew a very long time ago. I daresay, many lifetimes ago, for the time I speak of was prior to kids, prior to marriage. Sharing brief updates with one another through FB messaging made me think of the value – or lack thereof – of the new world we live in, this lifetime of social media.

I love hearing about people I’ve known in the past. Having moved around a lot, making and loosing friends year to year, province to province, town to town, I appreciate the technology that allows me to catch  up with old ties. It’s inspiring to know that a former co-worker has been promoted, followed their dreams, found happiness in their career and especially in their life, or that an old acquaintance is doing well.

This week, news I learned through this medium was anything but uplifting. There was, in fact, too much sad news from Canada in the last few days, from the loss of a politician beloved by many in this country, who passed at the too young age of 61, to a plane crash up north in our Arctic.

I recognized the name of one of the crew members in the crash instantly. I honestly thought, at first, that it couldn’t be the same guy I tree planted with, one of my crew members my memorable first year in the bush. I thought, there’s got to be more than one man in this world with that name. Through facebook, I learned the worst. Holy hell, he’s the same age as my husband, who also knew him, and he’s left his wife a widow with three small children.

This is not my loss. I haven’t been in touch with him in ten years. But I’m haunted by this too sad story, and the fact that the last time we hung out, we were in Whistler, BC, and that’s when I met his then girlfriend, now widow.

Can the virtual world help me send my condolences to his family, and the families of the other eleven people who perished on that flight in Resolute? At the very least, I will use this technology to get an address to send something to the family. But what good is a cheque or a card or flowers, when nothing can make up for the loss?

Before reading the news this week, I was reflecting on the fact that social media is a most superficial form of connecting. No matter how many personal pictures, regular status updates or sharing of internet interests a person has on their homepage, we can never truly know each other without real face time. That’s what makes me most sad about geographical distances that separate me from loved ones. But I’m learning of more and more situations where the reality of life means people must be apart for survival – apparently there are many Newfoundlanders who knew people on that flight as well, for some of them travel there for work.

So the technology can fill in the gaps left by temporary distance. The other night, my parents watched my kids in the backyard on Skype, saw for their first time their four-year-old grandson pumping on the swing, something my son just learned a few weeks ago. My nine-month-old is now used to this form of communication, for where he once cried to see their faces on my laptop, now he smiles and points and grunts at them, much to their glee.

So is it valuable? You bet. I wouldn’t want to not know about people I’ve known and cared about, no matter if the news is sad or happy, or to share moments between my kids and their grandparents, even if it is only virtual. Does it change the human condition? Nope. We still share, suffer, feel, as deeply with it, as without.

May your families and friends be safe in this weekend’s coming storms. May next week’s news not be so sad. Either way, I’ll be online, watching.