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Written on May 22, 2009, and categorized as Flip side.
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I had a conversation with my gorgeous girlfriend the other day in which she described the life of her friend’s 14 year old son. She asked me whether I thought it was negative that he spent all his time in his room, but considered himself lucky and popular, because he had 140 Facebook friends.

I told her about the recent report which described children imprisoned by technology. I agreed that this is a danger, but pointed out that he probably had more in common with his online friends than with the people in his immediate environment. What a mistake it is to assume that school friends or family will have similar tastes and interests. In my case, I was an isolated teenager – it would have done me good to be able to connect with like-minded people. I came to the conclusion that so long as online time was balanced with healthy doses of sunlight and exercise, and was not wholly separate from life, it could be very beneficial.

In my own life, I have several times stumbled out of a wasteland and into a brightly lit, warm and welcoming room. The last time that happened revolved around Seesmic, the online video community. Prior to that, it was podcasting, and before that, a like-minded network of bloggers. Ten years ago, I met two remarkable, talented women through building an online film show in a shed for Vince Clarke, Yana in Moscow and Sonia in Boston. My life would be the poorer without them.

I still keep in touch with many of people I met through all of these social events, have met many of them in the flesh, worked with some of them, made art with some of them, and consider all of them to be my friend, much as people I see in the flesh all the time. In fact, the peculiar intimacy offered by the internet has given me deeper and more personal insights, which I rarely achieve with my neighbours, or the guy who runs the café, or the postman, or pharmacist, or the people at the church across the way.

Despite this attachment, for sanity and balance, there are self-imposed limits. I don’t carry internet around with me. When I leave home, my phone works just as a phone. I am resisting getting an iPhone, even though I could use one for work, and I will probably never get a Blackberry. “Always on” internet is not for me. I already work here. When I leave, I want to be with my thoughts, my loved ones, and I want to look at trees and crowds, the sky and the river, not stare blinking at a smaller screen, wearing out my thumbs. It’s enough that I take the odd picture and shoot videos.

Earlier today, a daughter in Philadelphia sent a text message to Twitter from her mother’s mobile phone which moved me. I read the message with that horrible, sick prickle of consciousness that I feel when I realise the world has just changed for the worse. It was a simple message that her mother had died.

It stopped the day in its tracks for me. The mundane aspects of life pale into pointless insignificance when confronted with sudden death. Ro Frazier, aka @LilyHill, a woman I have known for 18 months or more, a lovely, intelligent, humane person with whom I have bantered and conversed, swapped links and stories, and come to regard as a friend is dead. She died on Wednesday. I don’t know how old she was, but she was wasn’t that old, so I was shocked. Many people are lamenting her passing, she was highly regarded by those who knew her.

I went to her Facebook page, and retrieved these pictures, read her blog for a while. She’s been writing it for four years.

Farewell, Ro. Bon Voyage, LilyHill, Digital Advocate. Thank you for the kind words. Thank you, Ro’s daughter, for the message. Thank you, Tim Berners-Lee, for this remarkable invention that has enriched my life with friendship.

It’s not just the convenience of messaging, adding a follower, the ubiquity of the internet – it is the meeting of minds, the touching of souls, the shared sensibilities, the humour, the wisdom, the kindness and the love. Don’t believe it when they tell you that internet friendships are not real. I would have got a lot more done today if that was true.

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This thing has 2 Comments

  1. Z80GameCoder
    Posted 23 May, 2009 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Life can be fragile.
    I learned that in the last twelve months.
    And I changed a lot of my life due to learning that.
    I can honestly say it was for the better.
    Having had a close-ish brush with death I know I need to value life more.
    And to that end, be more secure (ironically) and bolder in my life.
    Whilst a lot of the online community is not connected in the truer sense, there definitely are times when connections are genuine.
    This is most probably true in real life too.
    As in there is not much difference, except maybe quantity (as in I may have 120 followers, 12 of whom I know and have a genuine relationship with of some sort.)
    It is sad to say goodbye to someone with whom one has had a genuine relationship with.
    I had a co-worker at my first job, who helped me progress to greater things, but stayed behind, passed on (Alan Steele).
    I still miss him to this day, he was a good sort, and I wouldn't be where I am without him in my life.
    It is sad to suffer the loss of someone dear to us, but it is comforting to know we will see them in the future.
    And we will all be together again, in time.

  2. Posted 4 June, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I am very thankful that you wrote this beautiful tribute to Ro. I am still feeling bereaved, probably because unlike if we were close blood family, I haven't been actually able to pay my respects and attend her funeral or say goodbye in a proper way, I guess writing a tribute for a friend we met online is the proper way to do it.

    I miss Ro a lot. She had become part of my daily life because we had often the same twitting hours and moments. Her absence is felt by this online silence that captures the exact essence of what death can be: silence.

    But keeping silent online is impossible. So thank you for your beautiful words.

    I will always miss Ro but will also cherish the memories that she left me with and that are very numerous..

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