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Christine Larade

The Comfort of Strangers: Human Social Media

By: Christine Larade | May 14, 2013 | 
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The Comfort of Strangers: Human Social MediaThere exists a special tool that can comfort people, share both good news and bad, and connect kindred spirits in a way that simply was not possible a few short years ago.

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.

Be Grateful

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.

About Christine Larade


Christine Larade is a proud bilingual social business professional who helps companies advance their strategic goals by becoming a ‘social business’ instead of a company who ‘does social media’. She has experience managing innovative campaigns, building social media and online strategies, and providing training and support to businesses and organizations.

14 comments
biggreenpen
biggreenpen

I love social media (guess that part's obvious). From my personal perspective, the ability to share and commisserate about everything you listed here has been much more of a plus than a minus. It has also helped raise awareness. When I memorialize my sister in law who died abruptly at age 30 of an undiagnosed genetic heart arrhythmia, I both give her the honor she is due and educate so that others might avoid the same fate. Same with my brother in law who committed suicide - it means something therapeutic to me to honor his memory but has sparked more than one conversation that may help someone avoid the same fate. I do think there are some concerns (as with anything in life) -- situations that are fabricated (it's hard to immediately tell that sometimes); situations that exploit rather than memorialize. But just like with anything in life we have to be wise and educated consumers. The Tweet Hereafter, I have to say, is going to have to percolate a bit before I figure out how I feel about it. :-) One last thing -- I was involved in the perfect example of social media exponentially growing a memorial movement this past weekend. My "Wordless Wednesday" about it is here, along with links to the actual event (embedded in my post): http://biggreenpen.com/2013/05/14/wordless-wednesday-cades-11-edition/ Great post, Christine!

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

So true -- all of this.

On September 11th, I had been working on my own for just a couple of years, and if it hadn't been for message boards and email (what passed for social media in 2001) I would have felt so isolated versus my old office colleagues.

Last fall my father died and the support I got from Facebook friends was incredibly helpful. And just last night, my wife and I had to put her 17-year-old cat to sleep. The cat was a preexisting condition of our new marriage, and for the past couple of years I've been documenting our evolving relationship, from antipathy to grudging acceptance to her own odd version of love. (Yeah, I'm the quintessential cat pic and video poster.) So when we made the sad announcement this morning, countless people reached out not only to express sympathy but true remorse, as they felt they got to truly know and love a pet they'd never met in real life.

So when people say online relationships aren't real or substantive, I just think they're doing it wrong.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Hi Christine! First, thanks for the powerful post. Very, very good. 

Secondly, I love this! I think the other thing social media does in these situations is provides a sense of community and love when a person most needs it. For instance, my mom is my very best friend. I can't think about how hard it is going to be when we lose her (hopefully not for a very, very long time). But I do know the last thing I'll want to do is talk on the phone or see people, but I'll still need to be comforted. Social media will allow me to have as much privacy as I want, but also give me an outlet when I need it. Very powerful stuff!

Bob Farnham
Bob Farnham

No... [said with no emotion what so ever]

clarade
clarade

@rdopping Thanks for the positive feedback! I agree on the point that we are becoming too cynical. Nice to know there's others who agree with me. 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@RobBiesenbach Oh Rob, I'm so sorry. I have two cats, and just got a puppy in February, and I'm the world's biggest suck. I talk to them (shhhh, don't tell anyone). Hugs to you and your wife. 

clarade
clarade

@RobBiesenbach Thanks for your feedback Rob! I so agree with your cat analogy. When our own cat was lost a few years ago, we turned to social media for both help and comfort. Fortunately, our cat came back. 

clarade
clarade

@ginidietrich Thanks for sharing and for your kind words. I so agree with the concept of community when it comes to providing comfort. It always fills my heart to see people trying to provide comfort to strangers whom they would walk past at the grocery store, never knowing the hurt they may be feeling.

RobBiesenbach
RobBiesenbach

@belllindsay Thank you, Lindsay! Feel like I overshared, but it was too weird that Christine's post appeared yesterday just as we were going through this. Our relationship with our animals is certainly strange and mysterious!