As we prepare for a likely lock down in the UK, social media is playing an important role in getting people organised so we can support the elderly and vulnerable. I am part of a WhatsApp group in the village making preparations for this and, although I am not on Facebook, I know a lot of other volunteers are being found there. It’s fair to say that, without social media, we would just be a number of well meaning people who wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. However… and with network technology it seems like there is always an however, social media is one of the reasons we are in this situation to begin with.
Things were already changing, I suspect, when social media came along. Sixteen years ago, when Facebook first started, we were not living in idyllic communities where everyone knew everyone and we all looked out for each other, that chad been going away for a long time. People were already moving away to live and work in different places, lives were already changing, but without the ease of keeping in touch with old friends there was still an incentive to know who your neighbour was and to have some kind of connection with the people you physically lived near. That doesn’t seem to be the case any more.
Now I could live quite comfortably without knowing the names of my neighbours, let alone what their needs might be. Now it takes a formal organisation to get help to older and vulnerable people whereas once it might have just been something we knew and did. Social technologies are playing an important role in mobilising help, but if they had never existed in the first place we might have kept hold of the old connections we had to our physical environments.
It’s a complex situation and during this crisis it’s too late to do anything about it. Idealistically I am apposed to those tools, but I am more idealistically apposed to letting my neighbours starve, so it’s a question of degrees. But my hope is that, once this crisis is over, it gives us all a chance to reflect on the way we have been living recently. That it reminds us there are real people in our local communities and that we are a part of those communities. I hope that when this is all over we don’t lose the connections that we build.