Day 66! I’m officially 2/3 of the way through this adventure. I have to say, the past couple weeks have been pretty amazing, and have went by way faster than the first third. Maybe that’s because there have been real live humans! Running with me, eating with me, and chatting with me. Small towns across Middle America have welcomed me with open arms. Almost any runner will tell you that miles with someone are infinitely better than miles alone. So much better that I’m beginning to wonder how I did all those weeks (mostly) alone. Then I realized I didn’t. I’ve had more company than I can count for each of these 66 days, in both virtual and real life.
Social media sites have gotten a bad rep over the years. Studies show kids are less social with their peers, possess less social skills. Insta-celebs have pulled back the curtain on the perfect filtered posts. Internet trolls are hateful on threads. Fake news is rampant across the platforms. Weekly I hear of someone deleting their account or just taking a step back from social media, and I fully support that. Still it’s important to acknowledge how much social media has brought to this run.
I had a couple goals with this run. I wanted to spread awareness and raise money, but I also wanted to meet the folks of middle America – the people I grew up with but haven’t spent much time with since leaving for the Marine Corps. Social media helps with the first, there’s no way I could have been as successful in fundraising without social media. And it’s even with the second goal. Social media has enabled me to share my story and meet new people. It’s connected me to strangers turned running buddies. It’s been a fantastic complement to real life interactions.
Social media has also enabled me to feel the support and love of my communities and loved ones who can’t be here. I can’t count how many times a day I go to my phone for inspiration, a simple good luck or message or support. I have no shame in saying the comments or likes boost my spirit, keep me going. In fact someone asked me today how many times I thought about quitting, and honestly I haven’t, no once, yes because of personal determination and for the causes I care so much about, but also because I told everyone I was going to do it. The idea of making a facebook post saying “ok I’m tired, I’ll call it now,” is ridiculous. Shame has always been a pretty effective motivator, it’s the Midwest in me.
But wait Maggie, do you even know these people? Aren’t you just seeking external validation? Hmmm maybe. But I also don’t know the fans lining the streets of DC during the Marine Corps Marathon. I don’t know the aid workers urging me to get back on the trail, but their energy carries me, inspires me, reminds me of how much I’m loved and supported, how much this running thing can inspire people. I feel that same thing when the support is online. Just because it’s virtual, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Growing up in a small town I went to kindergarten with the same people I graduated high school with. We (mostly) thought the same, dressed the same, looked the same. We had a tight community, one that will always feel like home to me. It taught me how to be a member of a community, how to rely on those in your group for support, how to give that support back. Still, I rarely met or spoke to people who were different from me. I was limited to be friends with whoever was within walking (my siblings), riding (four neighbors), or driving distance. Social media changed all that. Take this wonderful group, I Run 4, for example. It pairs abled bodied runners (or bikers, swimmers etc) with special needs individuals, virtually. I’ve been paired with my awesome little girl for over a year now and cherish that relationship. I’ve never met her, but feel connected to her through technology.
While social media has exposed me to those who are different from me. It also enables people to find people just like that. Again, take special needs families. While families, especially those dealing with rare genetic disorders, can feel isolated in the physical world, they can find solace and community in the virtual one.
Social media, technology in general, is amoral – it’s all about how we use it. Sure, I get exhausted from notifications, but I get exhausted from people too (yes it’s true). I see people being mean and hateful online, but I see that in person too. It can be used for nonsense, or it can be used to build vibrant, thriving communities. It can connect, or reconnect you, to people who love and support you. It can hold you accountable for your goals. It can open you to diversity, or let you find people just like you. It can help mobilize communities, raise funds, and awareness. It can facilitate all these things if people want it to. And It can give you a street lined with fans along the lonely road.