Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Being Frank on the "social" in social media

I wrote about social media (a.k.a. Facebook, and Twitter) recently and how great it is. This week I have been thinking about the underlying foundation of social media -- the social part.
I am re-reading Stephen King's novel about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
King has said in interviews he carefully researched the history of the assassination and then he wove a fictional story about time travel into the true story for his novel, "11/22/63."
The premise is, "What would you do if you could travel back in time and stop the assassination?"
I don't want to give too much away, but his main character actually stops Lee Harvey Oswald and saves Kennedy's life. How is that possible? You will have to read the book.
This weekend, I was reading about the Cuban Missile Crisis in King's novel. I was 9 or 10 at the time and didn't remember too much about it; only that I walked home a different route after school on the day after Kennedy spoke to the nation on national TV about the crisis. I wanted to be with my friends, especially if there would be one last time we could be together.
My friends and I were convinced the best case scenario was that our world would be turned upside down and we would be at war. The worst case scenario would be something our minds could not comprehend -- nuclear war.
At Westside School in my home town we had been taught to duck and cover. Those drills were conducted as often as tornado drills (sit in the hallway on a hot spring day with your face on your knees while teachers walked past with clipboard in hand, making notes.)
I often wondered what those notes said.
"Mrs. Phillips, your son was caught whispering twice during tornado drill. He will have to repeat fourth grade!"
The nuclear drills were worse. We were in our classroom, on the floor beside our desks.
Our school building was of a modern design. Every classroom's outside wall was filled with aluminum cased windows that overlooked the playground or the front yard and the flagpole. Yeah, in case of a nuclear attack on Chicago, those windows would offer a lot of protection. Brilliant!
I did not know what went through adult minds during the crisis. Looking back today, I'm pretty sure King nailed it.
His time-traveling character, "George" was in a bar in Dallas, Texas, when Kennedy spoke on TV, calling Soviet leaders liars and giving the Russians an ultimatum.
George was killing time until he could prevent the assassination that was less than two years away.
In King's novel, the people in the bar were, to say the least, emotional when Kennedy spoke. Most opposed the President anyway. Many feared for their lives as Walter Cronkite showed pictures of missiles near Havana.
George got into his car and drove to see his girlfriend, a school librarian. She was wasted, in part because one of her other boyfriends convinced her that the world would soon end in a nuclear holocaust. He had sent her photos of human bodies partially destroyed by The Bomb at the end of World War II.
She nearly died from an overdose of pills and booze and George pulled her out of it.
The point King makes is that from our viewpoint, the Cuban Missile Crisis was over in a few days and scarcely a blip in American history. Nothing to worry about. But from the standpoint of people living through that time, it did seem like it would result in the end of the world and people sought solace in the best place they could -- the company of friends and family. Social comfort before social media.
It's still that way. Each one of us faces potential crises that could result in death or financial calamity. If we could look back on our situation from 50 years in the future, no matter how our crises turn out, they wouldn't seem as bad, is the point King makes.
"It's not knowing that is scary," we often hear. That's true.
Technology has always linked people together and people will always find a way to be with people. Even those folks in nursing homes, who seem to be only semiconscious are wheeled into a community gathering where a TV is playing every day and human voices can be heard as nurses and aides go from resident to resident.
When I was 6 years old, I had an emergency appendectomy. My nurse told my mom, "Talk to him, even if you think he can't hear you. I've seen children slip away because no one was there to talk to them when they were coming out of the anesthesia."
We may use telephones (landlines or cellular), Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat or Pinterest, but we will find a way to communicate with others about what we're feeling and what we fear.

Frank Phillips is a reporter for The Brazil Times.