December 15, 2009

Getting By With A Little Help From My <virtual> Friends

helpisontheway Today I am following a topic shared by a community of mommy bloggers – and a few others who felt compelled to weigh in, for better or for worse.

The back story is that a mommy blogger out there in the world (and I don’t need to perpetuate the drama by including her details) lost her toddler son yesterday when he fell in the swimming pool. Within an hour or two she had tweeted her situation and begged for prayers while he was in emergency care. The situation’s end result was that he didn’t make it, a circumstance too sickly tragic for me to even imagine, and one that would probably put me in a tailspin where I was barely conscious of what I did next. But I can’t even pretend to imagine what I would do. To suggest otherwise would be not only disrespectful but foolish.

Here’s the rub. While 99.999% of her followers were full of support and prayers, whatever they could do to give her strength, there was a contingent who chastised her for letting her child die, for putting him in harm’s way and even questioned her motives, suggesting she was staging the whole incident to collect donations from strangers. A good portion of this last group suggested that noone, NOONE who was facing a dying child would have the wherewithall to post a tweet about it, and nor should they if they were any bit a caring individual who loved her children.

While the bleeding heart in me wants to collectively punch those last bit in their virtual faces for criticizing a person in her situation, regardless of how they feel about her processes, I do have to admit I wondered when she thought about tweeting. And that is only when I think logistically about it – I would be a friggin mess. I make no judgment of her for having posted, I just go through the scenario in my head and can’t rationalise when I would have done it. But she asked for prayers from her community of friends and family online, many of whom I am sure she never met, and I can attest to the fact that strong friendship can be developed with someone you have never met in “real life” and I don’t distinguish between the validity of that type of closeness vs. one formed with people in the flesh. If you are one who believes that prayer can help, it wouldn’t surprise me that you would reach out to as many friends, close or otherwise, that you could to strengthen your chances of some effects. I personally don’t believe in prayer, and therefore may have less inclination to seek my community for immediate help in a time of trauma.

The ensuing debate over whether or not her actions were appropriate is an interesting one. My personal thoughts on the matter are that it’s noone’s place to judge whether someone reacted appropriately or not to any given situation, because this judgement can only come from a place of personal bias that has developed from diverse experiences. However, the more interesting discussion (in my mind) is less about this woman in particular and more about how social communities have matured and developed to a point where they are “real” sources of friendship, support and dialogue, where someone sending their heartfelt love and support virtually can be as encouraging as a hug from another right next to you. Maybe a year ago, looking to a virtual community in times of tragedy would be considered voyeuristic, or inappropriate, or somehow self-indulgent.

I have often wondered what I would do in a time of severe trauma, where would I look for help? My answer: my close friends and family nearby, and my social community online. For information, for guidance, for experience, for perspective. Undoubtedly you can find someone else who has experienced what you had, who has gotten through it and survived, who has wisdom, advice or some helpful words. When I was first pregnant and miscarried (hardly a comparable trauma, but still…), I found incredible perspective after I read other stories (hundreds of them) online from women who were looking for support, offering support, wondering if they were alone in their feelings. I realised how common it was, how others had dealt with it, how others had picked up and had success with future pregnancies, etc. I read stats and probabilities, medical facts and personal stories. It all helped. I connected with other women and just let it all out. That helped tremendously. It would take me forever to piece together a community like that in the people I know in real life. I would never find that kind of relevance and support without a focused group online.

I know of a number of women who have endured personal tragedy far, far greater than my own (I am humbled) and have all used their social communities online to support themselves through the healing process, and who even turned to that community during the incident as it occurred. Is that wrong? Why? Does it show disrespect, or any less depth of feeling for the outcomes? Does it help with the grieving process, or deem it tarnished in some way?

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this subject. As a practitioner of collaborative technologies and social media in some respect, this emergence of very human qualities in a traditionally un-human medium is infinitely interesting. I look for informed and varied perspectives to help me grow mine.


Bowen said...

Just because one doesn't see value in how someone connects with others doesn't mean that one should allow that lack to permit him/herself to attack how anyone seeks help.

You don't think people should tweet/blog/talk to a priest about something?

Don't do it. And then shut the hell up.

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