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The danger lurking in Facebook

Facebook is wonderful for keeping in touch with friends and family, sharing thoughts and photos, and expressing yourself. But when it’s used as a replacement for normal friendship and relationships, it can be soul-destroying, as ANDREW OCTOBER discovered when he became isolated by cancer.

Social network platforms like Facebook are supposed to encourage social interaction ‚ people can exchange greetings, comments, share jokes, and post links bringing millions of people closer together. But behind this fa√ßade of cyber-hugs and friendly ‚pokes‚ lurks a danger few will encounter before it’s too late.

In our increasingly busy world, we’ve become more and more reliant on social networks to maintain our links to our circle of friends, our family connections, and the communities with which we associate ourselves.

What once demanded somewhat more than just a few taps on a keyboard to maintain contact, like calling up a group of mates for breakfast, has now been replaced with a status update and a post of a few pictures showing us having ‚fun‚ – very often pictured alone.

We simply haven’t realised how platforms like Facebook have replaced physical contact with others, and that there is a very real danger in this.

In August last year, I was diagnosed with papillary renal carcinoma, a rare and often aggressive form of cancer. At the time I was diagnosed, the cancer had already destroyed part of my spine, and had spread to a kidney and the adrenal gland on my left side.

Because my initial diagnosis included the very real possibility of me becoming paralysed due to my spine collapsing, my doctors chose to operate and reinforce the support of my spine. That meant weeks in hospital and months of rehabilitation afterwards.

At the time, my only contact with my friends was Facebook ‚ a sort of inexpensive, one-to-many means of updating everyone about what was happening in my life. To give you an idea of what traditional communication channels would have cost, in my first week I sent out over 600 SMSs and used about 1500 accumulated cellphone minutes updating friends and family members.

So Facebook made perfect sense ‚ post an update and my 300-plus contacts, including my colleagues, family and friends, would all immediately be updated on my progress.

Some warned that it was dangerous for me to be sharing this ‚personal‚ information on Facebook, but to me the platform represented my living room and my dinner table. I was merely updating people I knew on my medical condition.

As time marched on, Facebook changed from being a broadcast hub to being a personal daily journal of what was happening to me. My Facebook contacts could track everything about me, from the latest medical updates to my mood of the moment.

But there was a price to be paid for the convenience of posting my updates to Facebook. I gradually realised that few friends called to see how I was doing and no one visited me at home after I was discharged from hospital. Their usual explanation was that they were following my progress on Facebook, so I guess they didn’t feel any need to reach out and contact me beyond the odd response posted on Facebook.

Now, I can understand if my friends all lived abroad, but these were people who lived around the corner from my home, who drove through my neighbourhood daily, and who worked in close proximity to my own office. Calling me or sending me an SMS would not have incurred any exorbitant international fees.

These were my friends who had previously shared gym with me, and with whom I had regularly hooked up for a coffee or a snack. Yet, suddenly I’d become too difficult for them to access: instead, they felt that their responses to my Facebook updates were sufficient.

Initially, my social worker attributed this to people’s fear of confronting illnesses like cancer. This I could understand, but we were not talking about one or two friends here. No, we were talking about virtually everyone.

From August to mid-October, no one knocked at my front door, few called, and even fewer SMSed.

By the time the festive season hit in December, the realisation of just how much Facebook had isolated me from the real world had hit home too. Apart from a handful of friends who all arrived on the same day a few days before Christmas, and another three after New Year’s Day, I was left alone at what should have been a time of celebrating our joy and love.

Facebook had gone from being the perfect platform for updating everyone I knew to the unintentional but perfect means of isolating myself from the real world. And, for a person suffering from cancer, this amounted to a double blow.

In an attempt to reclaim my life and sense of sanity, I decided to deactivate my Facebook profile, thereby depriving people of an easy means of sending me cyber-hugs and kisses ‚ and just maybe making some of them realise just how dangerous this social networking thing can be for a person in my situation.

Facebook’s great. Just don’t count on it for real, physical emotional support. No matter how fancy technology is, it can never make up for actual physical contact between people.

– Andrew October is a well-known information technology journalist and editor of Vodaworld Magazine. This article was written for Gadget.

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Sean Bacher

Gadget Editor

Maybe its not Facebook that’s the problem, but people’s shyness in the face of something they haven’t experienced before. Tell them what you need, and you will get it”,”body-href”:””}]

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