From last Monday until today (Monday) I have been cut off by the snow in my rural village in a valley. (I am now freeee!) My car couldn’t get out of my drive. There is no shop or pub. I’ve been on my own all that time because my husband works in Edinburgh during the week and he, of course, was stuck there and still isn’t back. Some days, no one could get out of our village; on other days, people with 4-wheel drives could. But I don’t have one.
I am good at being alone. In fact, I need time alone: I need enough silence every day, otherwise my brain starts to crumble with crowding thoughts and demands and the need to say and do and think the right thing. Even chatting to a close friend or my husband, easy and fun as that is, takes its toll if I don’t also get some time without talking or being talked to. Talking is exciting but exhausting. It uses huge brain bandwidth. So, time alone certainly holds no fear for me and is even attractive.
But this last week was different. A bit scary at times, if I’m honest. By Friday, I was starting to feel that I appreciated the word “lonely” for the first time. It was, I assume, the fact that I was not alone by choice. And that my imagination was starting to play the “what if?” game. What if I fell in the snow and no one knew? (My house and garden are not visible from the road.) What if I became ill? What if I needed an ambulance? What if there was a power cut and my phone didn’t work? And the internet? What if everyone else had evacuated and I was really alone?
I was saved by social media and “community”. The community of my village and the community of friends nowhere near my village but in touch via social media, all with their own problems, all with space in their hearts to commiserate with mine.
I’d made a joke about finding a lemon lurking in the fridge and thus averting scurvy. Next morning the doorbell rang and there was B. with two oranges to the rescue! She came in for a coffee and a natter. She’d already brought me milk a couple of days before when I’d first said on Facebook that I couldn’t get out.
P., another friend in the village, seeing my plaintive fears about running out of food, said that her husband had walked 3.5 miles each way to the nearest town the day before and he’d willingly go again for me if I needed anything.
A. phoned, after I’d replied to a video his wife had posted of him digging their supposedly snow-conquering car out of drifts, asking if I’d like to be taken anywhere now that his car was freed.
S. rescued me (another snow-conquering car!) once the snow receded a bit and we went to an actual supermarket. Road trip!
My neighbours emailed and asked me round for supper on Saturday night, just in case I’d forgotten how to speak. They shared their last potatoes with me!
M., a friend from way back when, phoned because she was worried about me. We had a great chat.
And always, online, there were so many friends, laughing or commiserating as appropriate, sharing pictures and advice with each other. When I needed advice about whether to cancel an event – which ended up being taken out of my hands – they were there, concerned for my safety, telling me to stay safe at home. So I was never really lonely. And I was obviously able to give support back – so many people were having difficulty, with lots of World Book Day events cancelled, many of us losing income, or people worrying about elderly relatives.
People who aren’t on social media, for whatever reason, don’t have this. Of course, there’s always been community, but it’s a lot harder to go to your neighbours and ask for something, than it is to say on social media that you’ve got a problem and let people respond if they can. I couldn’t have asked someone to get me some milk, but when I said I was cut off and I joked about starving, someone could respond and say, “Well, I can help – what do you need?” The older people in our village were well looked after, though, because it’s a great community, with various people calling round to make sure they were OK. But social media made everything far easier for me, and fun, entertaining. And heartwarming.
It gave people, including me, opportunities to help and support each other. We like to help, most of us, and seeing someone say something and realising that there is something you can do to help is empowering and uplifting. Doing favours for other people helps our own wellbeing.
So, I think social media came into its own through the snow. It brought out the best in people. It helped many people, including me, not to feel so isolated.
And even for an introvert who needs to be alone sometimes, being isolated is not healthy.
Life Online has a lot of benefits. Let’s not forget them.The Teenage Guide to Life Online absolutely acknowledges them. Though I hope I’m not too late to add in about being cut off by the beast from the East and Storm Emma…