Finding the positives in Social Media – a global connection and a gift beyond words

I had a different post in mind for blog post three. After looking at the way in which an individual and a community use Social Media to advance their cause in blog post two, I was intending to examine a more sinister side effect of Social Media, that of divisiveness and isolation. But, my mind could not come to rest on that concept. There is plenty to write about, but a feeling within me wanted to focus on something else. So, I spent some time thinking about my experiences with social media beyond the obvious negative impacts on my own mental health. 

And, once I spent some time brushing away the dirt and grime, I found what I was looking for. That at its core, social media, in my life like with so many others, has been a tool for connection. True, I have not utilized it effectively, I’ve never engaged online in causes that mean something to me, nor put anything of myself out there; though I am hoping to change that. I have, however, used it for exactly the reasons I was told I would use it for, when in 2006, my now-husband convinced me to create a Facebook account. 

A Persuasive Argument

“You can use it to keep in contact with friends back home”.

I remember it clearly, sitting at a computer, on-campus, at Wilfred Laurier University in the Fall of 2006. The screen in front of me displaying a blue and white website of something called Facebook. Up to this point my use of Social Media was limited to MSN messenger and Skype. Sure, I had a MySpace page, I didn’t use it. Text messaging and actually calling my friends were the main forms of communication in my social circle. We were neophytes to this developing digital world. 

But, I had chosen to uproot myself and go on an adventure; international texting was not a student budget-friendly option and international calling required a call-card and a payphone. Skype tended to drop calls and there was only so much you could do with MSN messenger. Still, those tools had been sufficient up to this point, why bother with something else? 

Facebook was only a couple of years old at this point and I had literally never heard of it. But, I was dating a tech-savvy, internet loving genius, and I was fascinated by his argument around the potential of this platform and his enthusiasm for the positive potential of the emerging digital world. So, I made my profile and joined both the network for Wilfred Laurier and my UK university. Then, through MSN messenger, I reached out to my circle of friends back home, who, like myself, were starting to learn about this new thing called “Facebook” and were also creating their own accounts. As my husband pointed out, I did and have, used it as a tool for keeping in touch. 

The Anchor To My Past, Allowing Me To Adventure Forward

Over the last 14 years, I have been able to participate, albeit remotely, in the lives of my childhood friends, high school, and university friends. I watched as they got married and had children. Mourned their losses, and cheered on their successes. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to not be able to retain that sense of home, while making the transition from living in the UK to living in Canada. 

It is hard to explain to those who have lived their lives in one community, or within easy traveling distance of their home community, exactly what it feels like to suddenly be surrounded by people who have no context of your story to this point in your life, and to have no easy option of returning home for a visit. It is infinitely freeing, but still extremely isolating, all at the same time. And I undertook this adventure of my own volition, I cannot imagine the difficulty faced by those who have no choice but to uproot their lives and move elsewhere. I recognize that I have been immensely fortunate to have had the opportunities that made my adventure possible.

Looking back, the ability to connect digitally at any point, to those who knew my story, who understood why a certain song had meaning or with whom I could share a joke that would be lost on those in my new social circle, helped to make the distance and change seem less daunting.

I told my friends and family back home that Canadian winters are like the Matrix, no one can tell you what they are like, you have to experience it for yourself. And I wholly stand by that! 

I once walked from my apartment to school with wet hair and had to stop at Subway to unfreeze my head, the kind staff brought a space heater to my table to help speed up the process. I only made that mistake once! Canada has a way of making you respect its climate, whether you want to our not. My Facebook feed became a steady stream of pictures of snow and temperature gauges as I showed my incredulous friends and family what the weather was like. Yes, we Brits do love to talk about the weather! 

View of snow covered deck, backyard and trees.
Figure one: My sanctuary. Anyone who follows me on Facebook is familiar with this view, it is one of my favorite views in all the world and I post pictures of it all year round. Though, winter wonderland pictures are my favorite.

But despite the natural feelings of missing family and friends, I’ve never felt more like I belong anywhere than here in Canada. It is one of the main reasons why I came back to take my postgraduate studies here. During my exchange to Canada in the final year of my undergraduate studies, I felt an immediate connection to this country, I felt at home. It is hard to describe, but I have known since I was a child that I would leave the UK. I announced it to my parents when I was twelve. 

And so for a wanderer like myself, Social Media has been an anchor through which I remain in contact with those most important to me and through which immense kindness has been shown.

A Gift No Words Can Truly Explain

This was never highlighted more to me than in 2017, when my family lost my father after a devastating illness, that had slowly destroyed the man he was. A few weeks after his death, distant cousins who live in Australia reached out through Facebook. Cousins on my father’s side; they had visited the UK periodically during my childhood. We visited Australia once when I was five; a long flight,  a misty haze of heat, and a Christmas spent in blinding sunlight. 

Did I remember them they asked? Of course, I responded. Did I remember that when they visited they always brought a camcorder with them? I vaguely remembered family jokes about this odd habit of filming everything, which in today’s world doesn’t seem that odd anymore. 

I did, I responded, well, they told me, “we are pulling together all the video footage of your father that we have. We would like to send it to you, so that you can share it with the rest of the family.” I was floored by this generosity and kindness, that, for reasons beyond the scope of this post, was not something to be expected, my mother having chased this side of the family away many years earlier.

Two months later a USB stick arrived and for the first time since 2006, I saw my father standing unaided, in the kitchen of our family home, singing, and dancing. His arms outstretched before him, his laughter radiating through the room. There was so much footage, a gift that I simply cannot do justice. I have no photographs of just him and me, we were the photographers of the family. I had no footage of him, and my memories of him by that point in time were overloaded with the destruction of who he was, wrought by his condition. Seeing this footage was like the opening of a floodgate; memories long buried returned, and now I can hear his whistle, feel his hugs and hear his laughter and baritone singing voice as though it was yesterday.

Had I not been on Facebook, those family members in Australia would never have been able to reach me, I am thankful to them every single day. And, when I look around and see the damage being caused by the negative aspects of Social Media, I try to remind myself of the positives these tools have, as well and the amazing connections they have allowed me to retain and create over the years.

Leaving aside the overt negatives, in what aspect of your life, has Social Media played an obvious and important positive role? How has this evolved over the years?

And while you think, I’ll leave you with a tune my father whistled frequently and with gusto over the years:

Winchester Cathedral New Vaudeville Band {Stereo} (STS Music Time Machine, 2018)

Reminding myself of the positives: A connection to my past, a voice to my present and a gift from across the globe. How has Social Media positively impacted your life?

For Facebook: I have spent a lot of effort battling the negative effects of social media on my personal mental health, sometimes forgetting the immense positive impacts. Here’s my post remembering that while there can be negatives, there are also huge positives: https://bit.ly/30CSsKr

References:

Sash56 [Username]. (2020, June 3rd). If you were handed a megaphone, would you use it? When Freedom of Speech impacts the Bottom Line. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://algonquincollegesocialmedia.wordpress.com/2020/06/03/if-you-were-handed-a-megaphone-would-you-use-it-when-freedom-of-speech-impacts-the-bottom-line/

STS Music Time Machine [User Name]. (2018, August 7th). Winchester Cathedral New Vaudeville Band {Stereo}. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw9z29pDCXs

4 thoughts on “Finding the positives in Social Media – a global connection and a gift beyond words

  1. Well! I completely agree with your positive outlook on social media. Sometimes we people get so engaged in looking out for negative pieces in everything, that we lose our sight to what ‘good’ things have brought to us. I am an international student and I, therefore, know the true worth of social media. It has kept me in touch with my family and friends. I am able to reach them in the case of need and this is only possible through social media. I often think of a situation when people left for abroad and did not have access to their loved ones, not even telephones. How did they manage to overcome homesickness? I can only imagine that!

    • I hope you are enjoying your studies here in Canada!
      I know, to be cut off from home and family in such a way. It must have been incredibly difficult.

  2. This is a fantastic blog. Thank you for sharing. I feel that in life there are tools for everything. If the proper tool is used for its proper purpose the result is wonderful. This is exactly what you are doing: experiencing the excellent tool social media can be. My Grandmother emigrated to Canada. She missed her family terribly and never got over this. I wish she would have been able to have the same experience as you. It would have made a huge difference to her life.

    • Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it!
      I often think about how difficult it must be for those who came before without these tools and for those today, who are forced to migrate due to war or famine or other reasons beyond their control, where their social networks of home are either forcibly spread out across the planet or completely destroyed. I imagine it must be incredibly difficult to be cut so adrift.
      Even just this weekend a friend from high school that I haven’t spoken to in years reached out to say hello, which was lovely. These tools can be really great!

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