^ lonely ? watching your laptop screen ? No need to be, the ‘net offers you a big, connected world whenever you want it

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David Brooks, writing in today’s New York Times, bewails the impact that use of the internet has had on community connectedness. He may well be right; but there is an opposite side to the story, one that he never mentions : social media has enabled all kinds of connectedness that never existed before or which imposed membership gateways.

I see it every hour that I peruse my facebook page — facebook especially. In Boston alone there’s more community facebook pages and discussion groups than I can count. I belong to at least thirty, and thereby I have connected to hundreds of people I could not otherwise have talked with, from every corner of Boston.

Said facebook groups don’t exist only only online. They meet, often regularly. I can attend, and often I do. In my own Boston neighborhood, East Boston, facebook interaction enables me to reach over 10,000 people. Probably other neighborhoods of Boston approximate a similar number.

On these pages one learns of all kinds of public meetings : campaign forums, City of Boston BPDA hearings, Mayor’s Coffee Hours; neighborhood association meetings; outings and days of action; rallies for this cause and that; dinners and breakfasts in the community. There is absolutely no reason why surfing the internet should bolster loneliness. Join facebook, reach out. It’s all there.

In social media you can also connect to people you knew but have lost touch with. I’ve reconnected with college friends, prep school classmates, kids I hung out with in the summers by the ocean, grammar school friends. Until social media came to be, there was hardly any way of finding them. Thanks to social media, I found my entire family of first cousins, most of them living in California or Europe — people that close to me who without facebook and google I could never have found without hiring  private investigator.

Churches and bowling leagues, scouting and Kiwanis, Rotary and the Elks connected people 30, 40, 50 years ago, yes; but the connections achieve via the internet and social media.

Kids who spend all day looking at their laptop screens may well be lonely; but if so, it’s by their choice, in one way or another. The connected world of social media is available to them whenever they decide to want it — just as it is available to you, and you, and you, and me.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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