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Online Lifelines

We can make technology work for us

By Patrice Athanasidy

Many people complain that this technological world takes something away from relationships. Yet I think it is how we use the technology that matters. For example, technology has allowed me to keep relationships strong when circumstances often keep me tied close to home.

As the mother of three, my social life is already near the bottom of the family priority list. Since my son has an autistic spectrum disorder, that priority goes down the list even more. Change in routine can mean days of recovery for Peter (although he seems to be bouncing back much more quickly lately). I often plan going out around obligations such as parent-teacher meetings and children’s events. When I am able to give Peter more notice about a change things go much more smoothly.

Patrice Athanasidy relaxes at home with her husband, Bill.

In order to stay connected more regularly with people, I have found technology as a gift. My husband Bill and I text almost daily. Since he is a teacher, I know I can send a text and he can check it when he has the time during a free period. I can also send him a shopping list and take away the stress of trying to remember everything on a hectic day. We text addresses and times for kid pick-ups and often just send an xo to keep from being two ships passing in the night as we handle family activities.

In addition, texting and writing to friends and family on Facebook have allowed me to be in touch without my son Peter feeling my absence. Several friends have become practically daily texting buddies. We share small moments of our day and sometimes write about the much bigger issues we are facing.

It was not until the other day though, that the significance of technology and my friendships hit home. I lost one of my best friends suddenly. Clare and I were regular online communicators. We had texted Happy New Year messages and on Jan. 2, I received a call that she had died suddenly. Friends since kindergarten, Clare and I have probably used every form of communication from notes on lined paper passed across the aisle to phones with long cords that stretched across the house, to cell phones to texting.

The important part was being in touch, sharing our thoughts and feelings, whether we were 10 or 40. As I read through messages (Facebook has saved messages that date back to 2008), I discovered that we covered everything from the mundane of shopping to concerns about our children. More than once in recent years, we told each other how important we were to each other. How glad I was to see that in print and be sure she knew. Not everyone is that blessed when they lose someone.

In 2009, I wrote to Clare, “It is funny how life can get in the way of so many things but FB works. I sometimes have bedlam around me, so the phone would not work, but I can type something out and reach a friend or look at a picture. I love it. It has been a lifeline.”

A lifeline indeed. We literally laughed and cried in text. I found messages about everything from discussions about planning proms and Communions and Confirmations to talking about Peter’s IEP and Clare missing her Mom.

With years of history, we could cover quite complicated topics in conversational shorthand. We didn’t need the BFF and LOL shortcuts of today. We were able to refer to a memory and save paragraphs of typing because we were on the same page.

Technology did not take away from my friendship, it strengthened it. In 2010, I wrote to Clare, “There are times in my life that we have been less present in the day to day and I have come to realize that those days have been less complete. I know some people think it is ‘just Facebook’ but I love that I have you as a part of every day again.”

So, do not consider that text or Facebook message you send mundane. Think of it as one of the many ways you can be a part of someone’s day. True, it will never take the place of face-to-face meetings, but virtual communication has its place. Reach out and let your friends know they are not handling the day alone, as you share your lives online.

Patrice E. Athanasidy writes from Westchester, New York.