Facebook might often be the culprit of countless lost hours of productivity, of over-shared movies about kittens and embarrassing photos. Despite the distractions I remain a loyal Facebook user. Primarily I keep an active account to keep tabs on the adventures and wanderings of all my far-flung friends. But Monday afternoon I was acutely reminded of the very important role that Facebook plays in our connectivity.
Yesterday two bombs exploded in the middle of my home city of Boston, tearing through one of the most historic events of our city, the 117th Boston Marathon.
I was on a train heading north and home, but not quickly enough. I was not there, but most of my family and friends were spread out throughout the city.
In another age and time the next week would be steeped in fear and speculation. Which friends might have been at the race? Where would they have watched? Were they counted amount the tally of injured (154 and counting as of this morning).
With the advent of cell phones — phones would be ring without respite. And indeed yesterday they were, certainly during the horrific aftermath of September 11 they were. But cell phone services can be swamped, as happened in both cases.
It does not take a tragedy to shut down the cell services. Last year at the finish line of the 116th Boston marathon — a blisteringly sunny day — the lines were jammed. I was there, standing approximately in front of the site of yesterday’s initial bomb, watching one of my best friends cross the finish line. Afterwards I ended up wandering for an hour trying to find her, my cell failing to go through in the crowds of thousands backing downtown Boston.
In an age of technology if you suddenly are unable to reach a loved one’s cell your anxiety is only increased. It is easy in the moment to forget that a server can be down and that a dead dial tone does not necessarily equate with human death.
Yesterday I did receive some calls and many more texts, but ultimately I turned to Facebook.
In less than an hour after the attack on the historic marathon my Facebook news feed was a scrolling list of messages:
“Thank you for the concerns and prayers for Boston. I'm okay and home now. Sorry for the slow or one-word responses by text before.”
“Hey All! I wanted to let you all know I am safe and sound.”
“We are out of town so all fine. Thanks for the concern from all.”
“I'm safe and sound, across the river.”
“Safe in Cambridge. Thank you for the concern.”
“Roomies and I are safe.”
“We are safe.”
“Just letting friends know that I am safe — my heart is with Boston.”
Scattered in between, were messages of solidarity of support and of love sent from friends and family stretching across the globe.
We have already seen the possibilities of the connectivity Facebook and other social media sites afford us. We watched during the Arab spring as protesters and resistors in Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia capitalized on such tools to distribute information and stay connected to the wider world, even while larger powers attempted to silence them. This is just one example of the power that comes from connecting people across the globe. Yesterday I witnessed another example of the power of that connectivity.
Yesterday was a horrific moment in the life and breath of my city — an attack on the vitality and spirit of a populace — on athletes who display so much passion, persistence and drive for life, and on the family and friends who are the bulwarks of those 27,000 runners. And yesterday was also a moment of enormous empathy: of the runners who finished an exhausting 26mile run minutes before the bombs and immediately turned around and to do what they could, to the medical teams that poured in from across the city, to the profusion of donors who offered their blood (some of the donors included runners themselves).
In moments of incredible pain it becomes painfully important to be reminded that we are not alone, that there exists enormous empathy both from those on the scene and those far away.
I am not often inclined to credit Facebook with incredible — as I mentioned earlier it is usually where I go to read an interesting article, check out friends pictures or watch a silly animal video. But over the last day I have felt only deep gratitude for a global network that has allowed me to ensure the safety of those I love and read the messages of support from friends far away.