Connecting This Way

Photo Apr 27, 11 51 26 PMI remember when social media became a thing, when Apple first introduced the iPhone, and how others worried about whether technology was killing our connectivity or not? Are we all the more connected yet narcissistic, so wrapped up in our everyday nuisances that we forget about the world and each other?

I can’t say I blamed them — the more Facebook posts I saw from the generation behind me, even my own generation, I wondered, too, if we were all becoming so self-absorbed and into ourselves that we ignored the benefits of having a collective. And maybe that’s why so many of us ranted on about being alone to a world of loners on the internet?

I feel like my generation is caught in the middle — some of us have completely embraced technology, and some of us still remember dragging the corded phone from the hallway into our bedrooms and the irksome sound of dial-up.

I Remember When…

I remember the excitement of getting my own phone with my own line (this was before caller ID and cordless phones). It’s not that I was much of a phone talker, but I liked the privacy. I remember when my best friend’s family in middle school got their first home computer. I remember thinking the black and white box reminded me of a cow.

I had the fortune of growing up with a technophobe for a father – in addition to his daytime runs as a FedEx courier, he was always aware of the latest technological gadget, and his favorite company, of course, was Apple (it took him years to forgive me for buying a Dell). I got my first computer at age five, a hand-me down from my dad who had upgraded to a newer version.

It was a Mac (or what would later be known as a Mac) with a green screen, and I remember typing the commands to turn it on. I couldn’t tell you now how to operate a green screen computer, only that I enjoyed playing games on it. I imagine if I had one of those computers now, I would be annoyed not only by the fact that I couldn’t use it, but at how slow it worked. But as a five-year-old, I was enamored with watching Pacman run across the screen (or whatever game I played).

And at 14, my dad bought me my first cell phone — it had an antenna, and he bought my mom the same model so that we could coordinate rides after school. But because students received three detentions for having a cell phone turned on while at school, I always turned mine off (yes, all the way off), and then I would forget to turn it back on (yes, I forgot to turn it back on) so that my mom would yell at me when she couldn’t get a hold of me.

But before then, I remember using the payphones outside the school cafeteria to call my mom after school to tell her I wasn’t feeling well enough for volleyball tryouts and would be at a friend’s house until she could pick me up. I remember feeling annoyed that they had raised the price of the payphone to 25 cents.

During high school, my dad introduced me to the world of Limewire, and I spent many countless hours downloading my favorite new songs. I have a whole binder of homemade CDs of low quality audio. But before then, my friends and I would record songs from the radio and make mixed tapes. My first car had a tape player.

Connecting Today

And yet here I am listening to music on iTunes, typing up my latest blog post on my laptop with Word, and then uploading to the internet via WordPress. I am connecting with the world about a shared experience, and although my readership may be small, we are still relating to one another.

But that’s not what made me think about all of this social media criticism. What made me think about technology was the fact that I only worried about friends in downtown Baltimore today for a few minutes before they responded via text, Facebook, etc. that they were safe and okay and had vacated the city before things got out of hand.

And then we had conversations about what was happening and how the world needs to change. Conversations that would not have happened if we were all shut away in our houses and apartments in different parts of the world with no way to reach one another. So for those who think we’re becoming too self-absorbed and narcissistic with social media and other advanced technology, I’d like to bring us back a bit.

I have Type 1 diabetes. I am the only one in my family with this disease. I am the only one among my close friends with this disease. Yet by keeping this blog, staying on top of Twitter and the diabetes online community, I do not feel alone with this disease. I feel like I have a community of supporters, most of whom I’ve never met, but who share their testimonies on this so-called internet and make me feel better.

I am not in this battle alone, and if they can do it, I can do it, too. But more than that, being connected to all sorts of people on social media struggling with chronic conditions, I am able to put things in perspective and be thankful that I am here, alive, and I am never, ever alone.

I hardly ever turn my phone off now. I did this once when I was particularly down and wanted to shut off from the world. But a few hours later, I turned it back on, and a former colleague of mine had texted me saying she was in the area and wanted to know if I was around. Of course, it was too late to meet up then, but I appreciated the gesture and the thought that if I had kept my phone on, instead of having a shitty night in tears, I would have been out with a good friend.

More than that, being far from family, I always keep my phone on in case something happens, and they need my help. Not that there’s much I can do, but I’m comforted by the fact that I can be there for them even from afar, and I am only a phone call or text away. In fact, ever since I introduced my parents to the wonder of emoticons, my mom cannot stop using them. Every text includes something new, another way to demonstrate what she’s trying to say.

So when my phone lights up, and I see a text from my Mom that includes a smiley face with hearts, I smile. I don’t think that five-year-old in front of the green screen ever imagined we’d connect this way.

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