In the old days–good or otherwise–interpersonal connections were via letter or phone or face-to-face. Now there are any number of interactions that can take place online and can lead to connections with real people. For example, Facebook, where you can use your trigger finger to like what you see. You may get a momentary buzz of pleasure, or annoyance at those privacy-sucking ads. The feelings tend not to be intense, but you have to avoid the “Pavlov’s dog” response of seeking more “likes” that keeps you coming back for more.  

You can up the feeling ante by commenting instead of just using an emoji (graphic) to express your reaction. Personally, I avoid commenting on things I don’t like, to avoid the anxiety and negative reactions that can result from other people’s comments and perspectives on my comment.  

There are also many groups that you can belong to, where similar-minded people share similar-minded stories, ideas, articles and so on. This can help you feel secure in your opinions, but can also lead to the “bubble” phenomenon. That is where you are quite unaware that others may not share the same opinions as you. It can lead to some abrupt awakenings in “real life” such as when attending family gatherings, having dinners with friends, or even in casual conversations.  You can imagine what feelings can result from such awakenings, be they rude or gentle.

There are online support groups that can help you achieve personal goals–weight loss or healthy living examples abound. You can build some connections, however transient. You can make some friends through online connections. The chat feature on my Scrabble app has led me to befriend a writer in San Francisco, a retired woman in Minnesota and a friend of my now-deceased aunt in Ottawa. We inquire about each other’s doings and share key events in between bouts of fierce Scrabble battles.  That’s fun, I think, especially on days when it is hard to get out of the house.

Texting as a means of connection mostly sparks feelings of frustration in me, due to its limitations and my arthritic fingers. The speech feature in some keyboards for texting can be great. It can also lead to some rather hilarious bloopers if you don’t check it carefully before hitting send.  

There are a number of apps that have emerged as leaders in communications, other than Facebook. I have used some of them, but have stopped due to data breaches, (like What’s App, now owned by Facebook.) Online tools for connections can lead to feelings of paranoia due to privacy concerns, but it may not just be paranoia. For example, have you seen the ads that crop up almost immediately after you’ve searched for something? Creepy. You can turn off that personalization, but there is no doubt some data will always be collected.  

Online connections can strengthen existing friendships or family relationships. Aside from video or voice calling, they are not great for repairing said friendships or relationships. 

My last example is a rather sad one. I used to belong to a virtual support group for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Members posted daily, or weekly, or occasionally, depending on their circumstances, or their desire. There were (still are) many shining lights of hope and some very strong-willed people posting on this forum. The personal stories of struggle could be inspiring and/or spark anger at the callous treatment of some health care systems. As the disease progressed for some, there was a notable sense of loss. When several leaders of this group passed away, the sorrow and grief was almost overwhelming, even though we had never met in person.  

In the end, I withdrew from regular contact with this forum. I still check in occasionally, but I do not participate regularly. I guess I prefer my online bubbles to be a little more grief-proof.  

Overall, I value my online connections. I do look for opportunities to learn and develop friendships through these means, although they do not and cannot replace the sense of community and belonging through “real-life” interaction.