There are many times in which I’ve felt that people — myself included — would benefit from logging off and getting a life. This sort of cynicism (or optimism, depending on one’s take) is heightened when I read about people falling in love with someone else that they’ve “met” only online. Hey, I’ll admit… been there, done that. And never again.
So, too, do I often ask myself why I continue to feel so passionate about online communities and online networking. With all the flaming and faking and fluffery and general bullshit, isn’t it all just a waste of time?
Then every once in a while, I’m reminded why Online matters.
Recently, in a health-‘n’-fitness related forum on orkut, a young, formerly active woman who is recovering (slowly) from a stroke posted a note expressing her general feeling of hopelessness.
Over the last few days, many of us took time to give her thoughtful advice and warm encouragement. And then today, she just posted a followup note letting us know how much our responses have meant to her… and has promised to start being more proactive about getting her life back.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve personally saved two women (each who ‘met’ me from a forum online) from commiting suicide by keeping them “talking” over IM, finding a local hotline number for them and convincing them to make that critical call (since I’m not a licensed counselor!). And on a less severe but also heartwarming note, a great many people have thanked me over the years for my contributions to online communities, often giving me specific examples of how my information or encouragement or even friendship has made a difference in their lives.
In the end, I may still be a hardened cynic about falling in love online, but I now truly believe that online communities can mean the world for people, one posting and one person at a time. And I hope, despite the brutally sensationalistic Internet headlines we’re cursed with nowadays, we never forget about the real undercurrent of good humanity that flows throughout the ‘net.