Snow Sunday: Happy New Year to My Facebook Friends

Snow Sunday: Happy New Year to My Facebook Friends

facebook pageWe show up at a holiday party, and run into people we haven’t seen in months. Instead of just saying hello, I dive right in, saying how beautiful the photos of their vacation were. My husband looks at me incredulously. How did you know where they went? When did you see photos? “She’s my Facebook friend,” I explain.

Social media has revolutionized the way we connect with other people. While nothing can replace seeing someone in person, the oxytocin jolt of a hug, or an intimate conversation, there is something incredible about the breadth of communication possible in the digital age. Scrolling through Facebook or Google+ or LinkedIn is like going to a virtual cocktail party, and having hundreds of conversations at once.

And just like a real cocktail party, there are all kinds of conversations, spiritual, intellectual, funny, personal, and inane. Some people post thoughtful, meaningful comments, others tell you what they are eating and at which restaurant. People vent online about frustrating situations, pour their hearts out over things that trouble them, and sometimes—a lot of times—share too much. It is almost like leaving a message on an answering machine versus talking to someone directly; unedited and uninterrupted, people really let loose in the most beautiful way. There are hilarious memes, funny videos, inspirational thoughts. Some of the most incredible stories I’ve heard in 2013 have been online.

My Facebook memories from 2013 form a strangely beautiful montage. The heartwrenching posts from a woman desperately searching for her missing son. The Telluride community rallying around a young mother dying from cancer. A flurry of comments after the football team from my old high school won the state championship. “Throwback Thursday” photos of people with unimaginable amounts of hairspray or vintage ski clothes, people who look so much younger than they are today that they are almost unrecognizable. A video of John Green telling the world exactly what is wrong with our national system of health care, if only people will listen. A friend on top of Kilimanjaro, just hours before she had a miscarriage as she descended from the summit. A used camper for sale, a 1965 Scotsman, which became mine. Hundreds of posts about the Boston Marathon bombing, in real time—some from friends who had already finished the race reporting that they were unhurt. Photos of full moons, rainbows, and early season snowfall. The wonderful windfall of birthday greetings people get on the day they were born. A lulzy HuffPo essay by a woman who shops at Whole Foods. A woman who mistook me for someone else with a similar name, friended me, and I watched this stranger get married and lose her mother all in this same year. Pictures and videos of my childhood friends’ children, kids I might never have seen if it weren’t for the advent of social media like Facebook.

And yes, it is possible to spend too much time online, looking at a screen, not engaging with the real world. I sometimes call it “Facecrack” because it can be so addictive, and suck up so much of my time. But there is also something wonderful and real about a virtual community. I have witnessed lonely and depressed people reaching out in their status and finding comfort and kindness from others. I have watched people share incredibly personal things and be embraced by their circle of friends and wider circle of acquaintances. I have grown closer to people I didn’t know very well, reconnected with my cousins and other family members, and stayed more current in some of my friends’ lives. I have learned things, I have laughed, and I have cried. So while it might not be the most perfect way we have of connecting with other people, it is still a unique way of engaging with the world around us. And connection with others, however imperfectly it happens, is what makes life more meaningful. Happy New Year to all my friends, Facebook and others. I look forward to seeing what you come up with in 2014.

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