I just read NPR’s Two Young Girls, A World Apart, United By Twin Tragedies, a stirring, personal account of just how powerful online communication can be. After the tragic shootings at the Navy Yard, David McGuffin’s daughter got a one line e-mail from her best friend in Nairobi, where they used to live. David and his family were in no danger during the shooting, they were fine. But Banita didn’t know that. She saw the TV, and she sent the e-mail:
r u ok.
5 days later gunmen walked into a popular mall near Banita’s house in Nairobi with AK-47s and hand grenades, and they started killing people. David and his daughter reached out via e-mail to make sure they’re friends were OK. Luckily, the family had decided not to go to the mall that day after Banita and her sister had taken so long to get ready.
This hits me hard, in several ways. My heart breaks for the victims of both of these senseless crimes, but at the same time it hits me in a very positive way, which is why I’m writing this so I’ll focus on that.
My generation gets a lot of flack for how we use the internet to communicate. We’ve all heard it (or even said it ourselves) “Everyone is connected but distant” “Technology is ruining conversation” “Get off Facebook” “Stop taking selfies” “Quit complaining” “Who cares you had a bad day”. The list goes on… but what’s missing from that conversation is the fact that it’s in our nature to communicate. No matter how plugged in people get, the most popular technologies are about communicating. Books, Movies, TV, Radio, Blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Facetime, Hangouts, it’s all driven by our need to talk, to share, to keep in touch (or at least do some major creeping on) people we’re interested in (whether we know them or not). That’s how it’s always been, since monks were drawing Bibles.
These two kids have a connection. They’re best friends and they were worried about each other, and there is no other time in the history of man that they could have asked, simply: r u ok? from across the world. That’s something we should all be asking each other often. It’s a compulsion after a tragedy, but it should be a habit. I think it’s even easier online because you don’t have to worry as much about awkwardly bringing up a bad topic, and people tend to open up more from behind a screen. People may think that’s sad, or a fault of my generation, but I think it can be a strength of ours. We have a million ways to reach out and just say “Hey how’s it going. How have you been?” and we have a million chances to see someone’s posts and say “Hang in there. Call me if you need anything.”
There world is crazy, to say the least, and we have to stay in touch. I just plan to do more of it now, because maybe the world is crazy for some of us in ways that don’t make the news, in ways I’ll never hear about. And I think it would help if we started talking more, start checking on each other more. Maybe it’s not the best, but techno-comfort is still comfort in my book, and at least it can tide us over until we see the people we love again.
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