Tuesday, 01 October 2013
Elders and Online Friends
In an age when the word “friend” is used as a verb and too many people attach self-worth the number of Facebook friends they have, what in the world can the idea of friendship possibly mean? Especially online?
As I often note in these pages, social isolation can become a problem in old age. If we are retired, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace, children and grandchildren may live far away, old friends sometimes move to another city or state or – how dare they! - even die.
And, our own mobility may become limited. That doesn't always mean physical disability or having to give up driving. In my case, evening social engagements are hardly possible at all anymore due to a relatively recent disruption in my circadian rhythm that even has a name: advanced sleep phase disorder or ASPD.
There is no need for detail about it today (I wrote about here). It means that for the past couple of years, I have been unable to stay awake past 7PM or 7:30PM. With great effort, I can occasionally push it later but there is not much point since my brain is on hold except for trying to resist sleep.
In addition, elderbloggers and blog readers are more likely than many younger people to be full time caregivers which limits in-person social time. Others may have moved to a new city themselves and be – as yet – without new friends.
So all of those are among the reasons I believe that the internet arrived just in time for our generation(s) to develop a new kind of friendship that opens – quite literally – a world of possibilities for human connections that can prevent loneliness, expand our horizons and help us form bonds that can be as close and nurturing and intimate as our in-person relationships.
Before I began blogging ten years ago, I would not have believed that. But now, at least half the people I hold most dear I have met through this and other blogs and half of those I have never met in person.
But that doesn't diminish the connections I feel.
It could be, too, that being at a physical remove is an advantage, especially in the beginning. Instead of the sometimes awkward small talk about weather we are stuck with when we are introduced to new people, on blogs we have a ready-made conversation with areas of common interest.
And there is plenty of time – well, space – to speak in complete thoughts which contributes to understanding one another better. Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog wasn't entirely joking many years ago when she said what she likes most about blogging is “no one interrupts me.”
In-person conversation is always jumbled with a lot of crosstalk and there's nothing wrong with that. But as we first encounter new people in blogs, the medium itself allows us, even encourages us, to be more thoughtful in both writing and reading – and that helps foster friendship.
Nowadays, there is hardly a difference to me between in-person and online friends. They are equally precious.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Thomas Moore: Nil Illegitimii Carborundum