With all the awful stuff I write about, readers may wonder why I love social media the way I do.

Here’s one reason: They can help people stay in touch better than any other device invented by human ingenuity. For the right reasons or the wrong reasons.

Right now, I want to talk about one of the right reasons: Helping families stay connected. I’ve experienced that and am grateful.

In the last century, many families around the world have had to migrate.

Mine did. I was born in a farming province of central Canada, Saskatchewan, just after mechanization hit, in 1950. No longer needed on the farm, most of the young families migrated to cities across the country, for jobs.

Because my rather large group lived in the world’s second largest nation state, we could travel a long way without leaving the country, so few of us were emigrants. And, however bad things got, none were refugees. Still, we got separated.

For decades, we did not stay in touch. That was not because no one cared. After all, we had a shared history. But it was expensive, time-consuming, difficult, and often unsatisfactory. Two thousand-mile trips were events of a lifetime, via adventurous roads, historic railways, or frontier air services. Not often repeated.

In recent years, it became much easier to stay in touch via social media.

Here are five ways we found recently to stay connected:

1. One can establish a closed family Facebook page for the express purpose of staying in touch about the care of an aged senior known to dozens of younger people. Those who can visit the elder frequently don’t need the page, but everyone else does. (Here are some useful tips from the New York Times about creating a family web site as well.)

2. When members of the oldest generation begin to die, the new practice of web sites sponsored by funeral homes can be a great help. One can get accurate information from the published obituary, read and leave tributes, and donate to charities for whom the bereaved have requested help. The process can renew our acquaintance with relatives and friends far off.

3. One can also find out discreetly via the internet if a friend of an aged senior has moved or passed away. Late in life, seniors often move to a community nearer younger relatives (who may be powers of attorney). The senior can lose touch with friends, whose own next-of-kin knew little of the friendship. It’s best to find out some basic information before re-establishing contact, if possible, and the internet is the best way to do that.

3. For younger folk, one can also schedule birthday reminders, and then find free e-cards and YouTube birthday songs, as well as clip art to decorate greeting and gift announcements. Frankly, I never would have done that stuff for most of the people I do it for now, if I had to rely on print media or the phone.

4. The internet saves a lot of money, used wisely, in terms of free recipes and patterns everywhere, and free music and documentaries on YouTube. So help me, I’m cheap. I prefer to give my money to help resettle refugees rather than pay for paper that ends up in the Recycle box.

Also, government-run agencies’ materials are free. NASA is a good example. With any luck, Journey to Mars is more exciting for young people than Bubble Gum Rock’s latest soon-to-be has-been.

5. Lastly, I have found weather alerts really handy. When expecting visitors during changeable seasons, I can swiftly relay messages about current and shortly expected conditions in the region. When visiting, I can find out how to pack for the weather without troubling anyone. Sometimes, it also pays to scan the local news headlines, to find out what one’s hosts might be thinking about, besides one’s visit…

And it’s all free for the price of an internet connection.

 

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

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Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...