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The Root of it All: Are Facebook 'friends' really that?

SooToday columnist David Root says he knows the answer after a recent stay in hospital

I read and hear a lot of comments from people who don’t seem to understand the appeal of Facebook.

Many don’t understand how people can have “friends” they only know online, and may have never met face-to-face.

I’ll admit it . . . I get that. There are very few names on my “friends” list of people I don’t already have a relationship with. What strangers there are are those who I have connected with through other existing friends.

And, for those who don’t understand Facebook or see the appeal of this social networking platform, that’s their prerogative. 

I am part of the generation that rode the initial wave of social media, and accepted the benefits of instant communication, chat rooms, and the like. For many of us, these have become essential tools for keeping in touch with family and friends, especially those who reside in more far-flung locations.

When I was growing up, most of my family — aunts and uncles and cousins — lived in town. We kept in touch through a quick phone call or by dropping in for a visit. With many of the relatives now moved away in pursuit of employment and education opportunities, this is no longer the case.

Yes, we could call each other, but . . . that requires the other person to be there to receive the call. With newer technologies — texting, Facebook, Messenger, email, etc — one does not have to connect immediately.

While leaving a phone message (or voice mail, as it’s called now) is an option, it is a poor way to conduct a conversation. With texting or Messenger, your message is displayed in text form until the recipient is able to read and respond to it.

This does provide for a somewhat interrupted conversation, but it also allows for the conversation to continue at the parties’ convenience.

I have had conversations that took place over several days. Obviously they were not of an urgent nature, and the delay was not problematic.

As you may have read in my previous column, I endured a medical emergency recently. Flown to Sudbury for neurosurgery after collapsing at home, I was rather isolated from friends and family.

Although there were in-room telephones, long-distance calls were not permitted, other then collect calls. 

Unfortunately, I could not remember any phone numbers, except one.

All my essential contact information is locked in my cell phone’s contact list. 

When one is being loaded to stretcher and wheeled out to an ambulance, grabbing your cell phone is not top of the list of things to do.

So it was that I arrived in Sudbury with very little means of contacting anyone.

Fortunately, I do have one phone number memorized, that of my friend and United Church minister Helen. She became the command centre for contacting those who needed to be contacted, or who were trying to get information about my condition.

She is to be congratulated, too, and has earned — as she put it — her “Junior Detective’s Badge” for managing to track down some of my relatives who live in Sudbury.

Back to Facebook.

A friend was able to go to my (now former) apartment and retrieve some clothes and a few other essentials, including my cell phone, tablet, and MacBook, and have them brought to me in Sudbury.

What a relief!

After a week of relaying messages through Helen’s command centre, I was able to re-establish contact with friends and employers. 

Through Facebook, I was able to contact relatives living further afield, and I received a great deal of expressions of support and concern through Facebook.

I stumbled across the Facebook page for one of my mother’s cousins, Pat, and made contact, describing the situation I found myself in. She replied that she had heard what happened from my cousin Lois, who lives in New Brunswick.

It made me realize how valuable Facebook has been in allowing our far-flung family to maintain contact with each other, and to realize that I had not kept up with the trend, myself. I have vowed to reach out to my cousins and keep in touch from now on.

I cannot adequately describe the feeling of opening Facebook each day and seeing posts and comments from family and friends.

There have also been two campaigns to help raise funds to assist in supporting me through my recovery, as I am unable to work right now, and will likely be off work for an extended period.

Some of the people who contacted me through Facebook were colleagues at the ADSB, who heard about my predicament. 

I know there is a segment of the population that is down on teachers, but my recent experience has shown them to be caring and generous individuals, who provided me with a great deal of both financial and moral support.

And again, being stuck in a hospital bed in Sudbury, Facebook provided an ideal way for people to send me messages, and for me to respond.

When I returned to the Sault, several friends were able to come and visit, knowing that I had returned. It was through some of these friends that I was able to secure new accommodations, and get assistance with moving my belongings out of the former apartment and into storage.

I have also connected with a number of former students (now graduated) who expressed their concern and have become really cool adults. One was able to assist me recently with moving my piano and other belongings from a temporary storage situation.

I do see the drawbacks to Facebook and other social media. Like any form of communication — including notes passed in class — these can be misused.

I am so grateful that technology has advanced to what we have now, and am looking forward to its continual development. 

We may not ever achieve a Star Trek-style technological environment, but it certainly seems possible.


PS: Regarding my health situation, I am pleased to report that everything is going quite well.