We all know the importance of keeping family and friends close. The value of a strong, supportive social network. How staying in touch with loved ones contributes to mental and physical health.
But sometimes, keeping in touch can be, well, complicated.
We might live miles, and sometimes continents, away from family and old friends. We're busy with work and kids. We change jobs, or retire, or move away. We might spend large chunks of the year travelling. Life moves on and so do we. And people we used to see everyday gradually fall off our radar.
But, staying in contact with friends and family can be more important than we realize. Isolation, especially social isolation, can be damaging to our health. According to an article by Elahe Izadi in the Washington Post our "relationships are just as important to [our] health as exercising and eating well." Surprisingly, studies have shown that while "quality relationships" are very important for adults in mid-life (mid-30's to 50's), what matters most for older adults is quantity. In other words for those of us moving into our sixties and beyond, "having a big social network" is more important than the depth of those relationships. You can read Elahe Izadi's entire article in the Washington Post here.
So what do we do when family lives far away? And friends are scattered across the country? Or if they live close, they are busy with work and family and their own lives? I don't know about you, but I've become more and more reliant on social media for keeping in touch.
That's how I keep in touch with this cutie. My best friend from high school, Debi. She lives in Calgary, and we haven't seen each other in person since 2006, and before then it was even longer. But now Facebook allows us to keep in contact. To reminisce about those days when we were inseparable, stayed overnight at each other's homes, swapped clothes, and got up to all kinds of things that won't be revealed here. Ha.
|Debi and me. Calgary, Alberta, 2006|
I use Facebook to keep tabs on my buddy Colleen, too. She and I have been friends since grade two. We've seen each other through some major hurdles over the years: marriages, break-ups, job and life changes, family troubles. Not to mention car troubles. There is no one I'd rather be broken down on the side of a dark highway with than this lady. Ha. Good thing we love to laugh together. She's more like a sister to me, actually. My "little" sister.
|Colleen and me, Parlee Beach, New Brunswick, 2013|
I use e-mail and social media to stay close with my family when I'm physically far away. My Mum and I talk on the phone a few times a week, and we e-mail, especially when Hubby and I are travelling. She also reads this blog, then sometimes e-mails me her comments. My sisters and I are not often all in the same place at the same time, like in this picture below, taken when we were home for my brother's funeral. But when we're separated, we talk on the phone, message on Facebook, e-mail, and text. Like the very important text I sent my sister Carolyn this morning, with the link for the perfect bag for her on sale at Massimo Dutti.
|Three sisters: Carolyn, Connie, and me. Douglas, New Brunswick. September 2017.|
Social media is great not just for staying in touch, but also for getting in touch. Three old friends and I used a Facebook page to organize our 45th junior high school reunion. It was wonderful to see people with whom I'd travelled from childhood to adolescence. From Barbie lunch boxes to training bras, so to speak. I've met old friends at reunions, who become my "friend" on Facebook, which is then seen by another old friend, who contacts me, etc etc. My friend Liz from high school and I reconnected that way. Now we see each other most times when I'm home at Mum's. We have dinner together, or go for a walk. It's been great to rekindle our friendship.
|Mary, Donna, Colleen, and me. Marysville, New Brunswick, 2016.|
I use Facebook, and e-mail, and texting to arrange dinners with friends here in Ottawa, organize my weekly skating/walking group, or book club meetings, or semi-annual lunches with former colleagues. Now that I don't see these people every day, I have to make an effort to stay in touch. To arrange meet-ups. And I can't imagine these events would happen if I had to call them all individually. Sheesh. Even I don't have time for that, and I'm retired.
I know that social media is not a panacea; it can't replace real social contact. Too much reliance on social media can be harmful, especially, but not exclusively, for adolescents. Besides cyber-bullying and other malign uses of social media, too much time spent on Facebook and Instagram, in particular, can lead to poor self-image, when we begin to compare our lives with the highly edited version of our "friends'" lives we see on our screens. The experts say that social media is addictive. Overuse can affect our ability to focus, or pay attention, cause poor sleep habits, and lead to what psychologists call "perceived social isolation," which is the feeling of being isolated even when we aren't (source.)
And obviously, interaction on social media doesn't carry the same benefits that real life social interaction does. But it does allow us to communicate with our friends and loved ones far away. Which is wonderful if we're unable to see them in person. Especially if we do more than scroll and "like" their posts. And just as importantly, social media allows us to easily arrange to meet with friends and family off the screen. In real life.
And sometimes, social media, or in this case my blog, allows me to meet some lovely people who have similar interests. I mean who knew there were so many women my age out there who love clothes and books in almost equal measure? And occasionally those on-line relationships move off-screen and we get to meet in person.
Just recently I met up with Rosie for coffee when I was in Stratford on my UK trip. Rosie and I first met a year ago when she and her family were in Ottawa. On the same UK trip, I had a lovely lunch and a good old natter with Wendy in Bakewell. And Frances, who writes the blog Materfamilias Writes, and I met for a long, chatty lunch in the Byward Market here in Ottawa last year. And because I'd chatted with all these ladies over the years in the comment section of my blog, I felt like I knew them already. And, in a way, I did. Meeting and talking in person just made it more special.
|Clockwise from top left: Rosie, Wendy, Frances. New friends thanks to blogging.|
But I do feel valued by the close friends and family with whom social media has allowed me to stay close. And by many of the new friends I've made and continue to make on-line. I know that staying in touch can be complicated... Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, not to mention e-mails, blogs, and texts. That sometimes keeping up with social media can be, well, wearing. When that happens I take a break. Or I cull the number of people whom I "follow." But if used in moderation, with a healthy dose of skepticism, social media should add to the quality, and to the size, of our social network. And that can be good for us.
I mean, we're adults. We're smart. We can make wise choices. We can use social media judiciously, and enjoy the benefits, while hopefully avoiding those negative consequences.
Don't you think?
|This is my skeptical look.|
So, enough about me. Now, it's your turn my lovely on-line, and sometimes off-line, not to mention off the wall (ha) friends. How do you handle social media? Does it improve your life? Make it easier to keep in touch with friends and family?
This week I'm joining Thursday Favourite Things Link Party and Saturday Share Link-up