While giving comfort has always been around, the ability to comfort strangers is still new.
Let's call it human social media.
When my daughter was born 16 years ago, I was young, exhausted, and often alone.
Like my daughter, the Internet was also still in its infancy.
Although there were forums or chat boards for mothers (remember them anyone?) they were new, people were cautious, and it was easy to be skittish about interacting with a stranger online. And yes, there were idiots out there even then.
Then Came Social Media
As its popularity grew, social media began to connect humans globally. We all know it changed how we receive information: Go on Twitter and search for breaking news, such as #Boston, #Bangladesh, or #AnyCountryUndergoingACrisis. You will find human emotions a plenty! But something else happened. People made friends around the world. And a real human side to social media began to evolve, where people would share their most intimate thoughts, and most personal emotional struggles. One of those struggles was dealing with death.
Human Social Media
You've seen them. The tweets about death. Some say we are becoming desensitized towards death, but I would argue the opposite. The loss of a loved one cannot be overlooked when it's shared online. And death and loss are shared regularly nowadays on people's walls and feeds.
The Memorial Tweet. You have likely seen these tweets yourself. They have lost a family member, friend, child, husband, or wife, and want you to hug yours extra tight. Some stranger sharing their (or someone else's) pain allows you, as the online voyeur, to engage with them, no matter who they are and what country they are in. Heart-felt blog posts about losing a loved one to cancer have probably led to more than one call to the doctor's office the next day.
Commemorative Websites. We even have websites that commemorate last tweets. 'The Tweet Hereafter' indexes the last tweets of celebrities or well-known individuals. Is this morbid or is it the equivalent to bringing flowers to a gravesite or memorializing where a tragedy took place? As humans, we naturally want to grieve, and usually we prefer to do so collectively. Social media helps us.
The Last Tweet. Sometimes the person who has passed away is remembered by others who share or retweet their last online post. A journalist I follow shared a 'memorial tweet' of a fisherman lost at sea to recognize his last online post was of his love for the sea. Her memorial tweet celebrated his life, and the passion he had for fishing.
It is a fact that nothing beats an 'in person' hug as a way to provide comfort. However, I believe the human face of social media, the one that allows us to provide compassion to total strangers, cannot be overlooked.
Social media is making us more empathetic to global issues; bringing to light the injustices in the world and giving a voice to those who've previously suffered in silence. It cannot fix everything, but it provides a valuable way for the disenfranchised to have a voice. It shows us daily that we should appreciate the good that we have in our lives. There are many people who forget to be grateful. Some will never appreciate what they have, but I have learned to complain less. Surely we all have a moment of 'there but for the grace of God', every time we hear of another's suffering.
The next time you feel these massive social platforms have decreased our ability to interact or feel emotion, look for human social media. You will find it in the heartfelt mentions of loved ones now gone, posts asking people to give blood after a tragedy, requests to send prayers to a mother who lost her child, to help find a lost child, friend, or pet.
Humans bring social media to life and I believe we are better because of it. Look online and you will find the face of humanity.