I spent Thanksgiving Day 2008 at my Dad’s house. Dad isn’t a techie; indeed, I call his house the “technology-free zone.” He’s never used a computer nor seen the Internet. I’ve told him that I have a blog, but I’m not sure if he really understands what that means.
What Dad knows and loves is sports, so Thanksgiving is a day-long football fest. As a non-football fan, I sometimes have difficulty following so many games at once. By mid-afternoon, Dad was channel surfing from game to game, and if I stepped away for a minute I don’t even know who the teams were when I returned.
On that day in November 2008, surfing past the news channels presented the horror of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. Dad paused occasionally for updates. To New Yorkers it was eerily reminiscent of the feelings, if not the circumstances, of September 11, 2001. To me the drawn-out attack in Mumbai and the multiple gunmen in different parts of the city seemed, if possible, even more terrifying than the brief but intense attack on the United States seven years earlier.
Only a few weeks earlier I had joined LinkedIn and had exchanged messages with a young man in India. Without access to my computer, I couldn’t remember if his profile said where in India he lived. I barely knew him via some online interaction, yet I worried.
When I got home that night, I looked him up on LinkedIn. Sure enough, his profile said only “India.” In the profile photo, he looked very young. I couldn’t think of a thing to write. I tried, but everything I wrote sounded stupid to me, so I went to bed.
Friday morning I got online early. It took me a while but I finally wrote:
We met through your question about responding to someone else’s traumatic situation. Now I find myself wondering what to say to my virtual friend in India following the terrible events that have taken place there over the past few days.
Your profile says you’re in India, but isn’t specific about the city. I hope you’re safely distant from Mumbai, and that all your family and friends are safe.
If you’ve looked at my profile, you already know I’m a New Yorker. I volunteered with the Red Cross after the September 11 attacks, and remain a volunteer today. I know what a violent, unprovoked attack does to a city and to a nation.
Take care and stay safe,
He wrote back to say that he and his family live near New Delhi and were safe. A few friends in Mumbai had a scare, but none were injured. I breathed a sigh of relief!
People sometimes worry that technology is robbing us of our sense of community. It probably does distract us from local neighborhoods to some degree, but it also offers us the opportunity to connect with people all around the world people we would never meet otherwise, like my young friend in New Delhi.
Today I give thanks for friends and acquaintances near and far, for old friends I see often and those who now live far away but can still be in touch by e-mail and online social networks, and friends I might never meet but who can still teach me. I am thankful for the world we share and for the many technologies that unite us.