Over the weekend, I was thinking about how much my experience living in another country differs from my parents’. When they moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, they depended on the occasional, expensive, international phone calls (usually only in the case of emergencies, and each side had to shout in order to be heard) and intermittent aerograms to connect with family back home. My husband has been traveling for most of the fall, and my mum has repeatedly asked me to call if I feel lonely. She’d been insistent to the point that I felt wrong about being perfectly fine. But I’m a writer. If I have time on my own, I fill it. I work on my novel, write in my journal, read, knit, and explore the city. Finally, I asked why she was so convinced I was lonely when I had plenty to do, and she said, “Because you’re alone.”
And I realized that I almost never am. I’m constantly plugged in. Twitter runs on my desktop all day, and I check in every hour or two to see what’s going on in the world and if there are any fun conversations. It’s the most public of any of my online communities and also one of the best — of all of the various social networks that have come and gone (remember Friendster?), this is the one place where I’ve met new people and made friends, some of whom I’ve later met in person.*
For me, Facebook is semi-private (in terms of my use) and reserved for family, friends, and people I know IRL. I have very few Facebook friends I haven’t met, and those few exceptions have strong ties to my community (for example a fellow Vermont College alum with 90 mutual friends). But my new, favorite part of Facebook surprised me when I realized how much it’s come to mean: private groups. I’m not in many groups (most are writing- or college-related), but two of my college alumnae groups have been unbelievably helpful. At Wellesley, we had a strong, online community (in addition to our in-person one), and it’s been recreated for graduates through topic-specific, private groups. Questions, concerns, and random thoughts can be shared, discussed, and analyzed with hundreds of women with a common experience but wildly different perspectives — and now we’re all grown up enough to know how to act productively online instead of degenerating into the occasional flame wars of undergrad.
Finally, I have a couple of completely private networks in the form of listservs. These are tight-knit, closed communities run through Google or Yahoo groups.
Add to this the rest of technology — the ability to email, text, or IM individual friends at any time for a one-to-one conversation and the wonderful apps that facilitate free international conversations — my biggest barrier to synchronous communication is the 6-hr time difference to the East Coast (9 for my CA friends, of course)!
So, I’m starting this Monday with immense gratitude for my online communities and the support and constant connection they provide.
What are you grateful for today?
* Okay, an exception — I met a ton of people playing MUDs online when I was 15. I’m still in touch with one of them, 20 years later!