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My Dark Age: Have you ever woken someone up, just to see if they're still alive? Why we must be grateful for our real connections.

Picture credit:  Atomicjeep


I want to tell you about a really crappy, depressing few years when I felt no one cared. 

I want to show you why online socal networks, had they been around back then, would have made things less hard.  And if you haven't already, I want you to realise just how lucky we are to have these amazing, relationship enhancing tools.

This personal post might also show you why I'm passionate about writing the book "How to Be a Superhuman:  Using the Amazing Power of Social Networks, Caring and Sharing, to Make a Living, Make a Life, and Make a Difference".  So here it is:

I know what it's like to feel alone. 
No one to go to the pub with, share a decent conversation, or lend a hand when I needed it most. 
I know what it's like to feel alone. 

I've been there.  It's shit. 
So please, don't tell me social networks don't matter, just 'cos all you can think to say on Twitter is which sandwich you might choose for lunch (yes, even your friends think your tweets are boring, it's just they're too polite to say).
Because back then, when I felt extremely isolated, I'd have killed for the meaningful digital connectedness we've got now.  I didn't have Facebook, e-mail, or even a computer.  It was the Dark Age.
In the Dark Age I was looking after my Grandma who'd brought me up.  

She was dying from cancer.
Every day her health got worse.
I'd returned home to Lancashire to care for her after a fantastic, life expanding time at college in London.  There, I'd been surrounded by friends and fun, outstanding thinkers and ideas, amazing possibilities.  Back in Blackburn, it was just Gran and I in the cultural desert. 
I got work looking after young people with severe disabilities.  When I wasn't caring for them I was back home taking care of Gran.  I'd no relatives or neighbours to help.  There was no "community" and most of my old mates didn't care and couldn't be bothered - the decent ones were long gone.

I lost my Grandad at nine and my worst fear since then was that Gran would die too and leave me alone in the world. 

Now each morning I was struggling to help her get up, dressed, and washed - difficult and embarrassing for us both.  After making sure she'd taken her pills I'd run out the door to take the one hour bus ride to work.
When I left I'd worry all day, wondering if she'd be alive when I got home. 

When I got off the bus at night, I'd run back to the house.  If Gran was sleeping I'd listen for breathing.  If I couldn't hear it I'd wake her up to check she wasn't dead.  She'd usually tell me off for worrying, but sometimes we'd just laugh, have a cup of tea, and I'd be alright.  
Why am I telling you this?
Because back then my life was shite.  Oh yea, lots of folk had it worse, much worse.  But for me, the isolation was dreadful.

Gran and I, 1994.

There were no smart mobile screens to read inspiring blogs on and lift the gloom. 

Twitter didn't exist.  I don't think there were any supportive online communities to connect with.  There were no apps for building your "tribe".  Finding people in a similar position to share a chat with was almost impossible.  There was no Skype to see a friendly, caring face.  No support groups to talk to.  No Tweet-ups for meeting real, like-minded human beings and sharing stuff that matters.  No videos telling you how to help people with cancer or e-books on how to cope with the death of a loved one. 


Nothing at all.  At least, nothing I knew of or had available to me in the Dark Age.

Now, my life couldn't be more different than it was then. 

I'm connected, online and off, to some of the most amazing people on the planet.  I'm surrounded in every sense by wonderful, generous, caring people.  I've a lovely family, great friends, and all the fantastic, life-expanding, uplifting intellectual and cultural stimulation I could wish for, in business and life. 

I'm a very lucky person and I'm truly grateful.

So, again, why am I telling you this?

Because during the last few years, for the first time ever, digital tech's made it possible to build meaningful, genuine connections with all kinds of people, everywhere!  This stuff isn't just for superficial banter (which I love of course!).  This is big. 

This stuff can change everything!  And it will.  It's massive.

Despite continued doom and gloom and worry about "the economy", and all kinds of global and local problems (course, these are massive issues) we've got an unprecedented opportunity. 

Every day, I hear people whinging.  People who simply don't "get", or choose not to "get" that we're living in amazing times, times of extraordinary possibility.  Plus, we've a chance to do something together that's absolutely remarkable. 

And get this:  if we can use our connectedness and digital tools to help each other banish loneliness and isolation, create better businesses and spread ideas that matter, then we can also use them to build strong, caring communities on and offline. 

Imagine when we scale-up the caring. 

Visualise the potential impact as we grown our generous, collaborative networks and the goodness increases exponentially.  Can you see how that might at least give us a shot at making things better for everyone?  Yes, I know you can!

When I look back to my own Dark Age and remember the isolation and pain, I'm grateful it's in the past.  But I think how many people there might be everywhere, right now, who are feeling completely alone.  They may think there's no one going through the same things, that no one cares, that they're on their own. 

Hey! Excuse me for being a believer but......... 

If these amazing digital tools can work for you and I they can work for others too.  They can help people find "their people".  Those online connections often develop into genuine friendship and amazing opportunities of all kinds. 

My own Dark Age wouldn't be quite so dark if it were happening today.  And if digital connectedness can work for us, it can work for other, currently non-connected, isolated people, and make their future brighter too.

My question is:

Who are you going to help get there?
For me, social networking tools are meaningless unless we use them to make deep connections and to make a difference for others.  Life's greatest riches are reserved for givers.

Be generous.  Be kind.  Help connect others.  Bring people together on and offline.  And you'll never feel alone again.

I know what that feels like.  I've been there.  It's great!



Thanks so much for reading.  Do let me know what you think will help us make our online connections stronger and impact the offline world? I love hearing what you think.  Please do leave a comment, it's always great to hear from you.  Much love, Ian.


Think Better.  Feel Better.  Take an Aspin.


Your comments:

Ann Hawkins says:
04/10/2010 08:55:25

Great post Ian. Whatever other benefits social media has, the opening up of great vistas of possibilities has to be the most exciting. Can you imagine how it would have changed your Gran's life, let alone yours? I have a picture of an old folks home (sorry, residential facility!) where instead of sitting in a circle watching a crap TV show the residents all have their laptops and smartphones and they're chatting to people all over the world, exploring new interests and making new friends. Like you, it bothers me that people a lot younger than I am just don't get it and think its all for teenagers when I know what a difference it would make to them if they put their prejudices aside and gave it a go. The danger is that those who are not using social media risk becoming more isolated as those who do find it so much easier to communicate with each other. I know I have to consciously remember to make phone calls, wondering if its the right time, if people are eating, gone to bed etc., when sending a tweet or a text is so much easier. Good luck with your book Ian!


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  • Ian AspinLocation: Lancaster Lake District, UK
  • Bio: I’m passionate about my work:TV journalist, producer, presenter, business ideas person. I care about: family, friends, helping people, finding meaning, running