Tears for a Twitter Friend

Editor’s note: The following article is adapted from a blog post I made to my professional blog this morning. I felt, with some adaptations, that it was appropriate social commentary for this venue.

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The power of social media struck me full force last night in a way I could not have anticipated. After a very long day, I was taking one last look at email before going to bed. I noticed a note sent from Facebook from someone I did not know. Lately I’ve received a number of friend requests on Facebook from spammers simply marketing their affiliate links. However this was not a friend request, it was an actual note so I took the time to read it and to my shock it was informing me that Mike, one of my acquaintances on Twitter, had just died. The young lady was going through Mike’s list of Facebook friends to let them know the sad news.

After the initial shock wore off, I got on Twitter to inform a few of Mike and my mutual acquaintances. As I wrote back and forth with one of them, something surprising happened. Tears started rolling down my face.

This surprised me because I have never actually met Mike. I’ve seen him on webcam and I’ve seen still pictures of him but I honestly doubt I would have recognized him if we passed each other on the street. But when I “met” him in cyberspace about two years ago he was more than a source of electronic messages. He was authentic. He chatted with me on Twitter with no ulterior motive other than to be friends and share. At a time when I was new to the Twitterverse, Mike offered to feature my Twitter handle on his web site as a go-to guy. He asked for my professional opinion of some of his business ventures. He became very real to me. He was kind. He was a good guy. Like many friendships in “the real world”, we got busy and lost touch but the minute I saw his name in that sad note, I immediately thought back to our exchanges. The other powerful aspect to this was how using Facebook, a friend of Mike’s was able to reach out to folks she never knew existed. I have no doubt that before his Facebook account is taken down, Mike’s “wall” will be full of tributes from friends and family, an electronic memorial of sorts.

On this blog, I have encountered a great variety of people. Some popped in and left one comment never to be seen again. Others visit and comment often. Among that set, there are those who prefer to be cartoon characters. They spout platitudes. They really share nothing meaningful from a human level. That is their prerogative. There is no rule within the blogosphere that one has to bare one’s soul. On the other hand, there are many who share just enough of themselves that they cross the line from anonymous commenter (or worse, troll) to a fully formed human being.

Next week I celebrate the third anniversary of The Rutherford Lawson Blog. In that time, I’ve witnessed post-graduate work pursued, past heart attacks, miscarriages and subsequent joyous births, the frustration of assembling an entertainment center, the loss of a loved pet, and modest testimony from someone who has put himself in harm’s way to protect our country. These stories only scratch the surface. I feel in some way that I “know” some of these people. I couldn’t spot them on the street. Heck, I don’t know most of their real names and they don’t know mine. I vehemently disagree with the politics of many of them. Yet these few folks have become real to me and even when I disagree with some of them, I look forward to reading what they have to say.

In fact, if I found out that any one of them had died, I suspect I would shed a tear.


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16 thoughts on “Tears for a Twitter Friend

  1. I can identify.

    The Hostages/Innocent Bystanders had one of our number who posted as “cranky”. One day he posted about having to go into the hospital for a checkup.

    We never heard from cranky again. Several months wen’t by, and someone with contact information for cranky did a follow up, only to discover that cranky had died a few days earlier. We had “just missed him” because we were reluctant to follow up.

    When my llate father passed away, I went through his computer history and notified the Leica Users Group (LUG) that he spent a lot of time with online.

    Most of them expressed a mix of suprise and sorrow. They didn’t even know he had been ill.


  2. There’s a core group here. I certainly relate and admittedly, look forward to hearing from daily. Very few days go by were I don’t reach out to see what’s the latest with some of the folks here.

    If any of thew core group were ever to come to the Washington DC area, I would expect to here from them, and to meet up for a cold beverage or two.

  3. Very nice article “R”.

    Guess it’s posts like this that keep me coming back and remind me no matter how tough we think we are, our how schooled or accomplished, rich or poor, black or white, smart or dumb, life really is both very short and very fragile. There’s probably a story behind each one of being here frequently that goes untold or unshared to most. I told you my reasons off board, and you have shared some of yours which I have appreciated. It does make it more personal, and I think when somebody is willing to bare their soul a little, a little more human in a virtual world. There isn’t a person that has posted on this board that I wouldn’t to like at least meet.

    There’s an old adage I read once and remembered: “When the game is over, the king and the pawn go in the same box.”

    I don’t need to tell you this, but I hope that Hippie, Curator and even Dan understand that while I pull your strings, disagree with you adamantly about most things important, and even on occasion step over the line :wink:, I do have boundaries. And one of those boundaries is that we share a heritage called America. There is a bond of sorts…and in the case of Hippie, a soft spot of sorts.

  4. Well stated. I find it amazing how close I feel to people I have met on-line. As you say, I would not know them if I passed them on the street, but their feelings, emotions, thoughts and real life incidents are important to me.

    It is an interesting medium that mixes near-instantaneous human interaction with vast differences. The sociological implications are virtually unknown. But we sure as hell know those implications when we experience something like you did here.

  5. Rutherford, I am sorry for your loss.

    One of my Navy buddies who I loved like a brother killed himself around 6 years ago. His family, due to being spread all over the world, never really knew him as an adult. Through the internet, I have gotten to know his Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters. I talk to them online every day. His Mom has told me that she feels that I’m a gift sent to her from God (God apparently has odd taste in gifts)because I was able to fill in those gaps of their son’s life that were a mystery to them. This never would have happened without the social media.

  6. Many thanks for all the thoughtful comments. About a month ago I expanded the services of my struggling business to include social media management. One of the cornerstones of successful use of social media within business is to be authentic. The notion is that people do business with people they trust, and even like. On a blog forum with “regulars” it is pretty easy to get to “know” people but believe it or not, even in the limited dynamic of Twitter, personalities come through.

    Ron Dean (by the way, welcome to the blog) hits this right on the head. The sociological implications of the Internet are far more complicated than we might have guessed. There are folks in marketing now trying to apply behavioral science theories to how people behave in cyberspace.

    Last night, all the things I’ve been trying to learn in my job came home to roost in a very personal way which prompted my professional post and the one I adapted here.

  7. DR … you’re a window into their son’s life that they never had even when he was alive. I can fully understand why his Mom considers you a gift from God. What’s even better is she told you so.

  8. Huck I didn’t realize you’d worked with HP offline. This must be a tough one for you.

    Unlike a lot of us, (me included sometimes), Jim was never the “angry liberal”. Dude always conducted himself with dignity, humor and patience. He brought a style to the debate that will be greatly missed.

  9. Man, Jim and I were practically soul brothers with an almost shared birthday date – two years older than me.

    Talk about feeling very mortal…

    You’re right “R”. Jim, for all of his personal “political” shortcomings was a gentleman – he actually set a great example in the rules of etiquette concerning how to debate. I think that is why I liked him and even grudgingly respected him.

  10. Rutherford, I didn’t work with him offline, it was via email. It was about original ideas I am researching and plan on publishing some day, so I wanted to keep it a bit more private to maintain my anonymity. As I mentioned, I was really looking forward to sharing my progression with him. And, whether or not he was actually interested, he said he was.

    He was really helpful, and I only hope I can find resources as good and as patient as he was.

    This is difficult for me because I am a big softie at heart, and also because it was a heart attack that took him. Check your cholesterol, folks. That shit is no joke. Do it this month and every 6 months after.

    DO IT!

  11. Huck, I mis-spoke. By offline I meant off the “boards” (i.e. via email). And by the way, if he said he was interested in your work, I’d take him at his word. The man seemed to have the curiosity and love of learning of a kid. Guess that’s why he stayed in academia.

    I have seen three people in the past month die of sudden heart attacks. It’s like a friggin’ plague.

    Aside to Tex … if I am not mistaken, Hippie had just taken one of his daughters off to college (in Oregon or Washington I think) this past September. It’s heart breaking beyond words.

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