Social Media: More than Just Fun

Several times over the last couple months I’ve commented here about the power of social media to bring people together around campaigns – raising awareness for Rare Disease Day, help for Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, saving a favorite television show with #Heroes100. It’s a fun, easy, almost magical way to take action on the causes that matter most to you. In a few short seconds you can reach out to thousands of individuals – something that even ten years ago was almost unthinkable.

But what happens when that cause is your very survival? What happens when social media is something more than just fun — a means for isolated individuals to reach out to the world beyond their sickbed, wheelchair or hospital room?

The New York Times took a closer look at this special kind of magic, and here is what the newspaper found:

People fighting chronic illnesses are less likely than others to have Internet access, but once online they are more likely to blog or participate in online discussions about health problems, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation….

They are gathering on big patient networking sites like PatientsLikeMe, HealthCentral, Inspire, CureTogether and Alliance Health Networks, and on small sites started by patients on networks like Ning and Wetpaint

for them, the social aspects of the Web take on heightened importance. Particularly if they are homebound, they also look to the Web for their social lives, discussing topics unrelated to their illnesses…

(Note: The story quoted above contains a lot more useful links.)

Most of us view social networking as an extension of the chatting we do in person with family, friends and co-workers over a Saturday afternoon barbeque. I count myself among that group.

But every once in a while, something comes along to remind us that social media is more than just witty exchanges with “virtual” strangers  – it’s a modern form of alchemy that cuts through space and time to turn the individual into a forceful community.