The Technology of Caring and Social Change

Sometimes, I question the value of Facebook, thinking with some degree of certainty that it is simply a narcissism-fueled vehicle, hurling its cargo toward self-inflicted ego implosion. But then, every once in a while, I see evidence that the technology and foundation that fuels Facebook has the means to change the world for the better.  Let me explain.

During the past few months, and in particular the past week, I’ve seen messages on Facebook about the passing of the fathers of people I know, one a good friend, another an acquaintance.  The latter is a person with whom I’ve had limited personal interaction, but with whom I’ve developed a semblance of friendship, nonetheless.

What I witnessed in both recent instances was the positive power of Facebook, enabling people to learn of personal tragedies inflicted on people they know and to respond with compassion.  In these cases, I saw what were undeniably heart-felt comments intended to help sooth the children of these parents through tough emotional times.

I’m not suggesting Facebook is “the answer.”  What I’m suggesting is that the premise for the service, and the engine that powers Facebook, have enormous positive potential, if properly managed and utilized.  It may ultimately be an upstart competitor, or even nationalization of the service that is becoming almost a utility, that assumes the mantle of leadership and wears the crown of royalty.  It doesn’t matter; what matters is that a vehicle exists that can enable power strategic deployment of empathy, when and where it’s needed most. It’s only a piece of the puzzle, of course, but it could serve as the foundation. Personal, one-on-one, loving contact is the best weapon in the war on personal pain; but technology can be a strong supporting tool in the arsenal.

The ultimate power, and the reason I think it’s so transformational, is that Facebook (or whatever replaces it in the popular technological landscape) can marshal huge numbers of people who care and give them the ability to act on that caring, almost instantly.  The recipients of that geographically dispersed caring receive, it seems to me, the equivalent of an entire town coming our in supportive mourning. Surviving family and friends are the recipients of the outpouring of support.

That’s how I feel today.  But as history has proved repeatedly, my opinions (even the strongest and most fervently held ones) change. I’ll stick to these ideas until someone comes along and disabuses me of the errors of my logic.

Regardless of whether that happens, though, I found Facebook a valuable and uplifting tool in the cases of my two friends who lost their fathers.  The situations were unique, but I saw elements of the same upwelling of compassion in both cases.  Facebook.  I would never have thought it just a few years ago.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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