Recently a friend of mine made a comment about following a favourite show’s hashtag on Twitter when watching episodes. It’s not something I’ve done in ages, but it brought back some great memories. 

Once upon a time, watching big events on TV with your Twitter friends was The Thing To Do, and a helluva lot of fun. Especially spectacles like the Olympics or the Oscars. 

I miss those days. I miss being online without worrying about what miseries might show up and punch me in the feels. I vacillate between being angry and sad as articles come out about the effects of social media on kids, or as friends prepare themselves to end friendships because of election ugliness that’s already starting. 

And yet… Praise be to Web Father Berners-Lee that there is still “and yet”... By the light of the dumpster fire of online culture, allow me the indulgence of penning a bit of a love letter. A reminder that our endless scrolling isn’t all bad. And perhaps share a little inspiration to seek out your own benefits in this digital minefield. 

In my area there are a number of community events, either monthly or annual. One of the biggest goals is to bring together diverse people who live in this area, as we often don’t interact much. Students and seniors, homeowners and renters, families and fraternities.

To really make consideration of your neighbours stick, breaking bread in person can go a long way. But at the same time, broad group communications are easier and more efficient online, so there are email lists and online groups to keep up to date.

Speaking of local events, every Monday morning brings Alex Kinsella’s excellently useful TL;WR email newsletter. Even if I was an extrovert I couldn’t make it to a fraction of the events he serves up. But I’ve gone to a bunch I learned about there, and I’ve forwarded him items for inclusion. 

I’m also a fan of people who think, “Y’know, I wish X existed,” and then just go and make it happen. 

One of the small pleasures in my day is actually deleting posts, ones that I’ve shared from Ground Search and Rescue KW. They help find lost, stolen or otherwise missing pets in the area, and sharing provides impressive amplification further afield. 

I quite enjoy deleting posts updated with “HOME SAFE.” They found my neighbour’s dog once, and I found a stray puppy they reported out at Snyder’s Flats. Big thanks for their good work.

Continuing with pets, I have seen tonnes of people sharing information, advice and arranging meetups, playdates and swaps in the Dog Owners of KW group. And that’s just one of many pet-related groups. It would have been an amazing resource when I got a cat (never had a cat before) or a puppy (never raised a puppy before). And now I can share hard-won knowledge, too.

Same goes for a variety of rescues/rescuers I follow, particularly on Instagram. Their posts cover training, behaviour, health issues, equipment and beyond, and teach me something every day. Plus, there’s the bonus of a steady stream of animal photos. 

Just be aware that the ugly side of rescue is shown, too. Which won’t help you chill out after a hard day, but may induce you to send them some money to continue doing their work.

Continuing in a charitable vein, social media has been a valuable tool for a lot of organizations not only to spread education and awareness, but to request assistance. As an example, demands for the Sexual Assault Support Centre’s services have skyrocketed in recent years, spurred in good part by extensive online coverage of major stories. (Disclosure: I’m a board member.)

Fortunately, the internet has become a great resource for NFPs and those they help, from enabling online donations, to chat-based counselling, to apps for services and resources, to social media sharing of news and activities. 

Of course, the need for services always outstrips available resources, so fortunately online donations or volunteer signups are super easy. Hint, hint.

To wrap up, I’m thinking back to the old days again. Of commenting on blogs, and forums, and chat rooms before they had creepy connotations. Of making “invisible” friends and watching events with your Twitter pals. I’m thinking about podcasts, or, rather, their audiences.

I have long been a huge podcast fan. Not much of a revelation there, given the number of them that I reference in this column. But aside from engaging ear candy while driving or walking the dog, I have discovered that a number of them have given rise to rather wonderful online communities. Communities that feel like the old days.

There is a number I’ve engaged with, and gazillions I’m not even aware of, but whether your interest is science or true crime or books or what have you, there are smart, funny, interesting nerds out there with whom you can find community. 

I’ve also seen that community management can scale as big as it needs to. People gathering online doesn’t have to turn into a cesspool once the population reaches a certain threshold. There is a fibre arts group I’m part of that has over 40,000 members, and it’s fun, supportive and informative. There is no tolerance for anything less.

Having been a community manager myself, I am aware of what a feat this is. It’s hard, usually invisible, and thankless work. But when done diligently and well, it showcases humanity at its best. Imagine, a small city’s worth of people acting like good neighbours and you can pretty much chat with any of them.

You can also bring these interactions into “real life” to whatever degree you like. Live shows, group meetups – I was recently invited for coffee and hiking by a fellow fan of one podcast who happens to live in KW. 

Now, that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But broadly, we are becoming more socially isolated, to the point where governments are getting involved. 

Walking the dog while wearing earbuds doesn’t exactly encourage chatting with the neighbours, I am aware. And as we get older we also don’t get any better at meeting new people, so these can be low-friction opportunities. 

Don’t even have to swipe right.