(This was originally posted on The Times of Israel on 12.13.12 … before the hullabaloo over Instagram privacy rules …)
In college, one of my best friends was Stephanie. We met sophomore year as we both hesitantly decided to join the eager freshman girls in sorority rush. By the time Rush Week was over, we knew that no matter how much or little we ended up liking the girls dressed in matching t-shirts and hair ribbons, we’d have each other.
And we did. Until the summer before Junior year when Stephanie got sick. She didn’t return for fall semester, and instead spent the next nine months receiving treatment for lymphoma. We spoke on the phone often during that time — in fact, when I remember Stephanie, I remember her phone voice, “Hey Jen, It’s Steph.” But I visited her only once at her parent’s home in Pennsylvania, a winter break road trip I dared alone from my parent’s house across the Delaware River.
I remember carefully washing my hands when I entered the house, and I remember how cheerful Steph was that day despite being clearly weakened. We played board games, and she showed me her computer station in the basement. The place, she told me, where she still felt connected to the world.
This was in 1994. The internet was still very young. I can’t remember if I even had an email address yet. If I did, I didn’t use it for anything other than connecting with my friends at school. But to Steph, the internet was everything. It was her only thing.
She told me about the friends she had made online; the games they could actually play together; the chat rooms. I remember being curious, but also sad. Who were these “friends” that my friend was so eager to meet each day; and how could she possibly get to know them simply through the green letters peppering a dark monitor screen?
But now I understand.
Almost 20 years later, I understand.
I understand how a stranger can make you feel alive.
How technology can be a life line.
And while for some, this is a more literal truth than for others; I do believe it can be a truth for us all.
I’m no technophile. In fact, I’m the mom that severely limits her kid’s computer time; rolls her eyes at her husband’s urgent need for the new IPhone; and worries that the next generation will never learn how to spell because they’ve never lived without Spell Check.
But, I’m no technophobe either. In fact, I believe that technology, and more specifically social media, just might be what saves us.
It’s a lofty statement with modest origins.
I realized today, for instance, how using Instagram has reignited my sense of wonder.
Through the lens of my mobile phone camera and the filter of Instagram, I suddenly find myself marveling at the beauty that is the backyard of my otherwise unattractive rental home in the Galilee.
Through Instagram, I see the world with hopeful eyes, and from that space find myself seeking new objects of wonder.
I’m on the look out for wonder and hope.
And when I find it, I want to share it.
This is what the world needs more of.
And it’s not just Instagram. Twitter ignites my curiosity. It’s in this space that I meet up with science geeks; where I’m reminded of just how many people out there really, truly want to save our planet. It’s in this space that I found my community in Israel; where I realized I’m not alone in my quest to make this land and the gentle hearts of those of us who live here understood by those who don’t.
Wonder and hope.
And Facebook, too. It’s here I’m inspired by the joy of the people I love. It’s here where I’m reminded by just how much people care about me, and just how much I care about others. How much my heart can burst at the photograph of a new baby born to someone I’ve never met in real life, but know through her blog what a gift that baby truly is.
Wonder and hope.
Social media –and your sharing bits and pieces of your wonder and hope — makes me feel alive.
And together, our joy at living, just might be what saves us.
Jen Maidenberg is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/