Social Life on Social Media

Nothing can beat a cup of tea and an intimate chat with a close friend. Or a warm hug from someone dear. Certainly not technology.

Except that my husband, my mother-in-law in Pennsylvania, and I have koffee klatches every Sunday. A friend and her granddaughter in Colorado Skype games of charades. I belong to support groups with members in Germany and Australia.

Before you say that pre-smart telephones could be used for most of these connections, think about the lack of video on old-fashioned phones, the difficulties of multi-person teleconferences, and the lack of ways to share photos and videos across the country, or even across continents. Mail can’t provide the immediacy; landlines can’t provide the visuals. Only computers and the Internet can put together the complete package.

Without the Internet, I wouldn’t have heard about my Girl Scout friend’s brain surgery until after it happened. We only recently got back in touch, but she posted daily updates. I couldn’t have expected daily phone calls.

Without Facebook, I wouldn’t have seen my great-nephews having breakfast with their father or shared awful jokes with my husband’s niece. Think of the phone bills I would have if I passed a joke along to all my other friends!

Without instant messages, I wouldn’t have been able to give a a dear old friend confidential news and personal advice that wouldn’t be overheard.

Sure, there’s a special quality to a face-to-face conversation. No electronic gizmo can replace the intimacy of a hug. You can’t dry someone’s tears over a cable modem. But there are times when you need to cry without letting the other person know you’re weeping, to listen to a confidence without showing that you’re shocked, to share a family moment without admitting that you’re alone.

Without computer technology, it would would be much more difficult – if not impossible – to keep up with my friends in Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Ventura, Newcastle, and Mumbai. For that matter, it would be an almost prohibitive hassle to telecommute with a company 75 miles from my home.

I know that the good old telephone and U.S. mail are still available when I need them. They let me arrange an evening with a high school friend who’s still in town. They let me send presents at birthdays, or Christmas, or jus because.

But, to tell the truth, most of those gifts are selected, paid for, and scheduled for delivery with electrons and pixels. The songs I share are mp3s, the pictures jpegs, the personally designed cards ordered from who-knows-where.

I’m closer to the people I want to be close to, even if we’re physically far apart.

Perhaps we only share coffee virtually, but still we share.

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