Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A community of friends

I got my first personal computer in 1988 and my first internet connection in 1995. Since then, the reach and usefulness of the world wide web has increased exponentially. For a writer, it's an absolute boon. I can't even remember half the agonies of researching material before the internet age. Trips to the library, long hours spent pawing through index cards in the catalogue, trying to guess the keywords under which the material has been filed, travelling up to the designated floor with a list of book and articles, squinting at long, arcane call numbers only to realize that the desired call number is missing. Hunching over a stack of books in the library or carting them home to pile on the coffee table. Thumbing through newspapers and microfilm, cold-calling experts with a list of questions...

Much of this information is now at our fingertips, a mere Google search away. And the ease of internet research means that I research small pieces of information that I would not have bothered to in the past. I would have glossed over the details or made them up. Need a particular brand of hunting rife? In the old days, I would have simply called it a rifle. Now I can call it a 308. Need to know a good name for a 65-year-old woman from Newfoundland? There's a website for that too.

I have used the internet for city maps, Google street view and satellite view, for images and videos of everything from poison plants to motorcycles to icebergs. I have watched YouTube videos of whitewater canoeing, dog tracking, and shrimp fishing. As a psychologist, I used the internet to gather the latest information and network with colleagues far more easily and effectively than through books and published journals. I think all professions have found that the internet has revolutionized their practice.

Through social media, the internet has changed our connections to the world as well. There is a great deal of hand-wringing about how people today are more connected to their phones and iPads than to each other and to the world around them. The art of conversation is dead, the quiet appreciation of nature is a lost art, and so on. There's a lot of truth to this, but I have also found surprise benefits. I have reconnected with old friends, built stronger relationships with family members in far-flung places, and have even built a community of "cyberfriends" with whom I have an interest or quirky outlook in common. I know people who have cyber friends to play Scrabble with, or some other online game. These friends mustn't replace the daily friendships with those around us, but as the number of people living alone increases, and as we get older and more housebound, this cyber community is an increasing source of comfort and fun.

And it doesn't stop there. Occasionally I combine the two ways in which I use the internet by putting out a call to my Facebook friends for information I can't easily tease from Google. I hope that somewhere, someone among my friends will have the answer or know someone who has the answer. A while ago I asked what kind of handgun a small woman would be likely to have stored in her kitchen in the country. Sure enough, I got not only the answer but also a link to the photo.

This past week I put out the call to my Facebook friends and family from Newfoundland, hoping to find out about blackout regulations and Bonfire Night activities during the Second World War. This was a harder question because none of them had been alive at the time, but I got some excellent memories, details and connections that will help me move forward. Others from nearby New Brunswick chimed in too, and it generated an enjoyable bout of reminiscences for everyone, quite apart from my research needs.

The internet and social media moves information and connects ideas with incredible speed and versatility. Grapevines had nothing on Facebook. I don't know where it will all end. Twenty years ago, when I was just contemplating the leap to primitive dial-up, I could never have imagined what Facebook, Twitter and email would bring. What do you suppose the next big leap will be?

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

Great post, Barbara! I couldn't agree more. Though computer issues occasionally have me tearing my hair out, overall computers have made my life easier. And my online network of cyberfriends and writer colleagues is priceless.