It’s undeniable that social media has a million different ways to be put to use, either positively or negatively. It can be used to keep in touch with far family, reconnect with old classmates, or stalk the profile of that new guy your ex-girlfriends been hanging around with. I see he likes Farmville. Real winner you’ve got there.
I digress, the most powerful aspect about platforms like Facebook and Twitter is it’s ability to instantly connect you to everyone in the world at the same time.
I was lucky enough to be chosen to spend my Spring 2013 semester at Emerson’s Dutch campus, Kasteel Well. This was certainly a step in a different direction for me, as I’d never been out of the country before, let alone for three months. In fact, until that semester I had never lived anywhere besides Massachusetts.
Living in the Netherlands was a surreal experience. Being so far from home for so long, in a culture totally different from my own. I made so many lifelong friends and countless memories, but one particular memory will always stick out to me, and Facebook plays a huge part in it.
Firstly, you should know that the American students living in Well very rarely had 3G on their phones, and had to connect to the internet through spotty Dutch wifi. Secondly, the only way we could make telephone calls was through janky prepaid flip-phones.
Now with that out of the way I’ll begin. It was the last night before we left for America, and everyone was buzzing around and getting themselves ready for what would be the last “American Night” of our lives. I was sitting in one of my friends rooms, premade Bacardi Lîmon and Cola in hand, playing the popular drinking game King’s Cup while casually chatting about how bittersweet it would be to return home tomorrow. Light-hearted and unsuspecting, like the rest of the world, we weren’t prepared for what would come next. Being a social media addict, I was causally scrolling through Facebook to check up on all the goings-on with my friends back in Boston. The date was April 15th, 2013, the time was 8:50 PM.
Suddenly post after post hit my newsfeed: “I’m alright, we’re all safe and ok”, “We’re on campus, is everyone else alright?”,
“Someone bombed the Boston Marathon.”
I was 4,000 miles away when we learned, through Facebook, that our home had been the victim of a cowardly attack. What can you do from 4,000 miles away? Without a working phone? Not enough, that’s for sure.
I messaged everyone I knew, post’s still popping up on my newsfeed, “phone lines are down” “Cell service is shut off in case they’ve detonated the bombs through cell phones” My family was fine, safely nestled away in my hometown just 30 minutes north of Boylston Street, eyes peeled on the news.
My heart was pounding as I continually refreshed my newsfeed, waiting one by one until my friends had all checked in that they were safe.
When you go abroad, you don’t realize how much it cuts you off from the place you’ve left behind. From 4,000 miles away Facebook was my only lifeline back to Boston, where everyone I’ve ever held dear were still in the midst of total chaos.
I love Facebook. I really, really do. The act of peering into the online lives of friends and strangers is a kind of beautiful voyeurism. But social media can be so much more than getting likes on some stupid post or sharing a viral video with your sister. In this instance it was my one way of maintaining contact with my home base, and I’m certain I’m not alone in that circumstance.