Throughout the decade-long history of this blog, I've written about the importance to elders of blogging and of the friendships that develop at a time in our lives when we have left behind the camaraderie of the workplace, when old friends and relatives move away or die, when our ability to easily get out and about may become compromised.
Of course, I don't mean just blogging. It's the internet in general – the places where we choose to hang out and interact with others. It can be blogs, the dozens of social media sites, special interest websites where we can find people with whom we share a passion.
Numbers of studies over these years show that the internet helps relieve loneliness and isolation and now, depression too. From a recent research report:
“Late-life depression affects between 5 and 10 million Americans age 50 and older. This new study shows that the Internet offers older Americans a chance to overcome the social and spatial boundaries that are believed to fuel depression...
"With other factors constant, the authors found that Internet users had an average predicted probability of depression of .07, whereas that probability for nonusers was .105. Based on the difference, Internet use led to a 33 percent reduction in the probability of depression."
Yes, yes, I know - chance, predicted, probability – the usual weasel words of scientific reports, particularly psychological ones.
We are no longer allowed to trust our own intuition and experience, and nothing is concrete until a pink neon sign repeatedly flashes the word “depression” (or whatever is being studied) on the screen during a brain fMRI.
Nevertheless, I accept the results of this study for all sorts of good reasons, the best one being what happened to me last week during the several days of the blog blackout that was the result of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on my blog host, Typepad.
All comments to this blog and The Elder Storytelling Place are sent to my email inbox and I have them color-coded to stand out from other email so it's easy for me to keep up with what you are all saying throughout the day.
Some of you have become friends with whom I email or speak on the phone and in some cases, we have met in person. There are others of you, regular commenters, whom I've not met in person or via email but have come to know astonishingly well through your comments alone.
Often, when I'm writing a post, I can (and do) predict to myself how some of you – email friends and not – will respond. “XX is going to hate this.” “YY will have a good story related to this.” “ZZ will make us all laugh about this.”
I've become so familiar with the habits of some regulars - frequency of comments or the time of day for example - that I smile when your comment arrives right on schedule and I fret a bit when you don't show up as expected, then issue a sigh a relief when you return.
So last week when the blogs were down and there were no comments, I found myself feeling lonely.
Even though a zillion of you emailed to ask if I was dead (well, you were too polite to say it outright but I can read between the lines), that's not the same as our daily conversation and I missed you.
What I've come to see is that among whatever else I do every day, I am grounded by this blog and most specifically by you who stop by to have your say.
Depending on the topic I laugh, I cry, I nod, I wonder sometimes what you've been smoking and as time goes by, I keep learning more about each of you, my blog friends.
Except that this all takes place in the ether of the internet, I no longer see how it's much different than if we all lived down the block from one another and hung out at each others' homes like our parents and grandparents did.
So during the big blog blackout it was as though my friends disappeared. Poof. And although I can't say I was depressed – after all, I did know the reason and that the problem would be fixed before too long - I missed having you around, missed your familiar voices.
I realize all those researchers have their jobs to do and they are important but I already knew from my own experience, confirmed by the blog blackout, that the internet is where some of our best friends are and they are as important to our mental and emotional well-being as exercise and healthy food.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Do You See Us?