My name is Kevin, and I’m a social media addict.
Yes, there, I’ve said it. And I’m not afraid to admit it. I love social media, and I’m probably one of those people you hear about. I’m constantly tweeting and chatting with others on Twitter. I update my Facebook status religiously. I switch back and forth between the Facebook and Twitter apps on my iPhone, lamenting the fact that I have such boring friends because there’s nothing new in the five seconds since I last checked. Lately, instead of reading before falling asleep at night, I’ve even taken to catching up on my Twitter stream.
Yet, even for me, there are days when social media is too, well, social. The trouble with throwing yourself into interacting with countless people online is that you’re interacting with countless people online. And people don’t always behave as you’d like them to. They can be irritating and annoying. They can say rude things. They can disappoint.
And then, just as I’m about to delete all of my accounts, retire to a cave and start communicating via homing pigeons and smoke signals, something reminds me about the true power of social media: a connection to humanity.
This happened for me just recently. I’d become grumpy and cranky and was generally pessimistic about the state of things, both online and offline. Everything seemed highly annoying and a general waste of time, until I logged into Facebook and saw a status update from a work colleague who’d just recently left the company. It said, simply: “Danny’s generous spirit always found those who needed him most. Please get to know a child who could use your love.”
Danny was the four-year-old nephew of my former colleague Tom. He had passed away suddenly in his sleep from a seizure. I was immediately saddened by the loss of a child, and could not imagine what Tom and his family must be going through. But it was only later that I truly came to realize what we all had lost.
Over the next several days other notes about Danny started to appear on Tom’s Facebook page. There was his obituary, which described him as an amazing child, with a love of baseball and who started every day with a hug. It ended with “Please go out and enjoy your life. Danny did.” Then an article from the Chicago Sun-Times appeared, prompted by Danny’s obituary. A week later his story went national in a piece on ABCNews.com.
These articles described a fearless child who took life on, literally going to bat for every challenge. At just four, he joined a championship baseball game when a team of seven year olds were down a player. He raced onto the field in a jersey that went to his ankles, hitting and fielding balls like a kid twice his age. Danny sought out both adults and children who felt isolated and shy, pulling them into his world with a tug and a smile. He helped a neighbor carry in her groceries, always taking the heaviest items. His first words at preschool were “I just want to learn.”
Everyone who knew Danny, it seems, had a story to tell about how he had helped them.
I never had the privilege of knowing Danny during his too-short life, but I have had the joy of coming to know him through social media. A few years ago, I would have probably lost contact with Tom shortly after he left the company, and it’s unlikely I would have heard about Danny. I certainly would not have come to know this boy, and learn from him, as I have. He has inspired all who read about him, and brought joy to everyone who has seen his smiling photo on Tom’s Facebook page.
It’s in letting the world know about people like Danny, one connection at a time, that social media shows its true potential. It’s not a business tool, or a method of virtual social climbing. It’s not a game to be played like an endless popularity contest. Social media connects us in ways we are just learning to appreciate.
As such, we must be careful. For in the digital howl of tweets, status updates and comment wars, we might miss one small child and his powerful message: Please go out and enjoy your life.
Postscript: Danny’s family have started a foundation aimed at raising awareness about seizure disorders in children. For more information, please visit http://www.dannydid.org
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