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Why care about email?

I got my first email address in the very late 80s. I was an intern at a government agency. I learned a lot there: how to sequence DNA, how to handle radioactive material, how to handle human pathogens, and how to send email. I got my first non-work non-school address in the mid-90s. One of the first things I did was join some mailing lists.

One of them was a list for folks who had pet rabbits. I met a lot of people there, both online and in person. As with many people we meet through a shared interest as our interest wanes the relationships change. Some relationships were maintained, but some of us lost touch with one another. Moves, job changes, email address changes, they all affect our ability to maintain relationships online. I kept in touch with some, one was the maid of honor at my wedding and a few years ago I was the maid of honor at hers. I lost track of others.

 

FlowerBunny

The indomitable Flower Bunny

A few years ago I managed to re-connect with some of those email friends through Facebook. It’s been great to see them and interact with them again. Many of us have moved on from bunnies to other pets. We’re no longer students. We have families and kids. And so on and so on. Facebook has given us a chance to be together again, and rekindle those friendships.

Today, I found out one of those friends passed away. Someone I’ve known for 20 years. Someone who was an absolute lifeline when I was making some big decisions and some hard career choices. 2 weeks ago she went to the ER for some shoulder pain. One of her last FB posts was complaining about how the Drs were treating her pain like a heart attack. It wasn’t a heart problem; it was undiagnosed melanoma.

I’m somewhat in shock. It’s hard to think I’m no longer going to hear her stories of crazy cartoon dog and the sneaky brat dog. I can’t imagine Facebook without her beautiful photos of the beach where she lives. On top of that, there’s a bit of oddness. How can I feel the loss of someone I never actually met in person so strongly? All of our interactions were online. And, yet, my life is better for her being in it. And I will miss her.

This. THIS is why I do what I do. The internet has a way of introducing us to things and people we never knew were out there. It enriches our lives. It allows us to create community with people who live thousands or tens of thousands of miles away. Or some that live right next door. Or 20 minutes away on the coast.

In order to keep building communities online we must keep the online space open and viable. That does mean shutting down abuse and abusers. That does mean policing the space and enforcing rules and keeping users safe. It has to. Otherwise any chance of community will be destroyed.

The communities we build now will still be around in 20 years. They may not be BBSes, or USENET, or mailing lists, or Facebook, or Twitter, but they will be around in whatever space we have in the future. These communities are important and they are worth protecting and policing.

Goodbye, Cary. You will be missed.

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