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The People We Know on the Internet

"Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood?" It was a catchy little song on Sesame Street about the grocer, the doctor and the people we might "meet each day". Of course it was from the pre-internet days and we weren't getting to know people via computer.

I've got some issues with my knee, so I hopped on the internet today to get the advice of "Bob and Brad" the two most famous Physical Therapists on the internet. I came across them many years ago when I had a very tight hamstring that bothered me when I ran. They had a video that addressed the kind of discomfort I was having, so I did the exercises they demonstrated and pretty soon my issue was gone.

Since then they have been my source for anything quirky going on with my muscles and joints. They are two middle aged guys that seem super knowledgeable, talk in understandable terms, and simply seem like good humans. Bob is tall, Brad is not.

Today I was about to fold some laundry and wanted to see what Bob and Brad had to say about knee bursitis so I was going to their video on the topic (I was certain they'd have one) and fold my clothes.

I pull up their page and before I can search bursitis I see a video that says, "What happened to Bob? Prayers!!".

Wait!! Something has happened to Bob? And nobody called me? What is going on??!!

I clicked the video and Bob is struggling a bit. He's got some neurological stuff going on that has affected his speech and his movement. This is not new information, because based on my quick clicking around to some older videos I could see it had been going on for a bit. Laundry-folding was forgotten while I went on an internet expedition sorting out how my buddy Bob is doing. It appears like several adjustments have been made to accommodate some of the limitations Bob is facing so that the duo can keep filming and posting. Bob also mentioned a few times that one of his adult daughters is a speech-language pathologist and is providing some valuable input. From what I could tell from my poking around it seems Bob's most bothered by his impaired speech than the other things that are being affected (primarily movement and balance).

But, man! Bob. I didn't want anything to happen to my buddy Bob. This is awful.

What a weird dynamic. I've never met the man. I'm certain he has no clue I exist in this world, but I sure am sad he's facing challenges. And Brad...Brad must be super concerned.

They aren't my neighbors in my neighborhood.

They are people from the internet that I will never encounter in real life.

Isn't that a strange world we are in that we develop care and concern for people we don't really know? I'm guessing you've done it, too. Someone you 'follow' has a challenge and you have an emotional reaction to it?

What an odd way the world has evolved, to now have these relationships that exist in both cyberspace and our hearts, but not in real time or with people in our 'neighborhood'. I actively wonder the impact that has on our lives and well-being.

I mean, do we have an infinite capacity to care? Or will we become emotionally exhausted and then not be available to the people tangibly in our lives?

Great questions. I don't know the answer.

It all matters. I do know that much. The compassion I feel for Bob and Brad, my quietly sending good mojo and best wishes their way, I believe it lends to the collective good of the world, maybe like their thousands of videos have added to the collective good of people needing Physical Therapy help.

But is there an emotional limit we reach personally? Can we max out on empathy? Is there a point that our hearts and minds can't handle any more concern and compassion? I mean if we are dealing with people in our real lives that stretch our emotions, how are our bodies responding to then also having emotions about the people that we meet on the internet?

The whole concept of knowing people is different than 30 years ago. I know personally from my social media videos that people I've never met feel like they know me.

Is 'knowing' now a sliding scale that ranges from people we have a one-way relationship with on the internet to our neighbor that borrows a cup of sugar, to our partner who knows we are cranky just by the look in our eyes?

I was troubled for quite a bit after I saw what was going on with Bob the Physical Therapist from YouTube. It affected my mood and my day. Enough that I told my partner about it at the end of the day.

Emotion cannot be quarantined to cyberspace...what we see on the internet impacts our mood and our behavior, it elicits and emotional response that then impacts our interactions with the people in our neighborhood, our work, and our home.

So if we are all trying to cope with the emotions we encounter in both real life and cyberspace, it makes total sense that we are all a bit collectively overwhelmed. It makes sense that at some points it's all just a bit too much...


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