Internet can create connections where you least expect it

Nov. 30, 2015 marked the three-year anniversary since I left Toronto to take a job as the editor of the Meadow Lake Progress in Meadow Lake, Sask.

Having been born and raised in a city of 2.7 million to living in a small northern community of 5,000 people was quite the experience.

It’s significant to me that I likely would have overlooked this anniversary if it wasn’t for a reminder from Facebook.

Facebook, and the Web 2.0 in general, is a paradoxical beast. On one end of the spectrum, we make hundreds of superficial connections, with people whom we might thank for a social media follow or mention, only for them to exit our consciousness that same day and never return.

On the flipside, social media has the capacity to foster long-term, meaningful relationships professionally, socially and romantically.

This paradox made me want to share a story about a man I would frequently speak with, via email, while I was editor of the Progress.

Rus Arnold lives in Nanaimo, B.C. and emailed me during my first week with the Progress to welcome me to the community. He explained that he was originally from Rapid View, a small town about 25 kilometres northwest of Meadow Lake. Despite having lived away from the community for at least 40 years, he was still a loyal reader of the Meadow Lake Progress.

Rus would offer me tips like making sure to plant my spuds by Victoria Day weekend or to tip over my rubber boots if I left them on my porch to prevent them from getting filled with rain. He offered critiques and compliments on the paper and how it was progressing during my tenure.

He even emailed to express his disappointment and well wishes when the Progress was shut down.

There are so many poignant points that can be drawn from my email friendship with Rus: the importance of small newspapers to their readers, the power of nostalgia, or the sense of community in isolated, rural towns.

But to me, what most stands out is how one of my most meaningful and memorable relationships from my time in Meadow Lake was with a man whom I never met or had even spoken to on the phone.

Email communication, compared to a phone or face-to-face conversation, is often regarded as distant and impersonal.

But as my friendship with Rus demonstrates, human connections can be formed and sustained via any method of communication.

As superficial as they may seem, digital connections have the ability to translate back into our daily lives and encourage meaningful relationships, recollections and insights. After all, there’s a fair chance you’re reading this column on the internet right now. Perhaps my tale will help you hark back to your own memory of forming a lasting connection in an unlikely place.

And on that note, I’m off to go email this column to Rus.

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