IRL: Can we be friends “In Real Life” if we haven’t met in person yet? (A Virtual Rant.)
Over the course of the last year and a half I’ve gotten heavily involved in efforts to use social media in disasters.
The friendships that have developed are real, and are now a part of my life, just as much so as other friends, family, and people in the local communities in which I participate.
I’ve been working with my new friends on a series of social media disaster response and recovery efforts; wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes – you can find most of us by searching the hashtag #SMEM (social media in emergency management) at any given time. (Or #SMEMchat on Fridays at 12:30 EST!)
As you can imagine, working on a disaster in any phase is something that one must take seriously. The response phase can be especially stressful, even when you’re working the disaster from hundreds of miles away in front of a computer.
Searching through fast running waterfalls of tweets, status updates, blog posts and news stories for useful, accurate and timely data then sharing it to the appropriate map, curated stream or wiki works better when you’re coordinating the effort with a group. That’s why groups such as Crisis Commons, Humanity Road, Crisis Mappers, Tweak the Tweet and Standby Task Force exist. There’s simply too much data to sift through yorself – you need to work with a group.
A small group within a group of us who enjoy working together on developing these tools and techniques have set up what we’ve called a VOST or “Virtual Operations Support” Team. We are emergency managers and volunteers who have been described as disaster geeks, zealots, champions and other things – mostly we just like helping people and seeing if we can find better ways to help people in all phases of disasters. (See my other posts on the VOST Initiative on this blog.)
Even though I still use it, I’m annoyed by the word “virtual” in reference to the disaster work that we do. It’s very real and important work, and I know it’s just a word, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying that we refer to it as that. And don’t even get me started on IRL, or “In Real Life”. I recall a few weeks ago in our VOST chat group that someone said they were soon going to meet another of our group “In Real Life”, which reminded me that there were many people in our group who I still only know by text and video chat, by email and by our “virtual” work together.
It annoys me that the people – people who I consider friends – people that I work with in difficult situations, complain and laugh with in social media – are tagged as “virtual” communities. They are not virtual by my understanding of the word. I’m proud to be working with them, whether they live within driving distance or not.
If you’re lucky, (or if you plan for it as Jeff Phillips did in out VOST group), your social media groups will want to talk and develop relationships outside of disaster activations. Thanks for working with me, my very real SMEM and VOST friends; my life is richer by “virtue” of knowing you.