Purple Jacket Readers Note: This is a formal academic essay submitted on ‘The Purple Jacket’ by…
Chris MacLellan, September 8, 2012, Short Essay #1: Vote Yes for Online Communities, COML 509 Professor Alexander Kuskis, Gonzaga University
Communication takes place in a myriad of ways and modern technology has certainly changed the way society interacts. What would communication be to a deaf person without the ability to read lips or understand sign language? Smoke singles for the Indians; Morris Code? There is an endless list of communication models, yet the common denominator in all models of communication is some form of human interaction. Modern technology has made the world smaller, creating numerous opportunities for people to come together share resources, while forming international support for any one particular cause. This essay will demonstrate the importance of online communities and their positive effects on sub-groups within society.
Anyone who has been a caregiver knows that outside support is an important part of the Caregiving process. Support can come in many different forms: emotional, physical, and financial just to name a few. To be a healthy caregiver, outside support is essential to the physical and mental well-being of all parties involved in the Caregiving experience. According to the National Family Caregiving Association, “More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.” (National Family Caregiving Alliance, 2009) Many of those 65 million people hold down full-time jobs; Working caregivers often sacrifice leisure time, while suffering stress-related illnesses. Caregivers multi-task, are pressed for time, and always searching for that proper balance in life. One way that family caregivers find care, comfort, and support is through online communities.
On-line communities are essential for caregivers. Caregivers use online communities to navigate the home health system, not only for their loved one’s physical and emotional needs, but for their personal support system as well. Denise Brown who leads one of the most popular online Caregiving communities, Caregiving.com said, “Online communities are open 24/7–you can connect when it’s convenient for you. You also can control the type of support you receive–chats, online support groups, blogging, simply reading and lurking. Online communities offer so many options for how and when you connect. They are a great reminder that you aren’t alone, that others understand and know what it’s like.” (Brown, 2012)
Online communities can be as diverse as your neighborhoods. The same can be said for the online community at Caregiving.com. This form of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) offers a variety of subgroups within the Caregiving genre as Caregiving comes in many different forms. (I.e. Caring for parents, caring for a spouse, caring for a partner, caring for children, caring for sibling) “According to social network scholars, CMC is more than capable of supporting strong, multiple ties between people.” (Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic, 2004) This is where Caregiving.com is at its best. Caregivers are so focused on taking care of others; caregivers often lose sight of self. The Caregiving.com community provides an immediate outlet for all caregivers to help escape loneliness,share resources while collaborating on issues that caregivers face on a daily basis. “For the family members of older people, online social networks can provide a bit of relief.” (Clifford, 2009) Simply put, on-line communities provide the assurance of knowing that you are not alone.
The very nature of Caregiving implies that someone is the recipient of care. However, how do you describe the person you care for? In 2009, this topic came up for discussion on Caregiving.com as the common description used for those receiving care was ‘care recipient’. One of the members pointed out that the label ‘care recipient’ did not accurately reflect her Caregiving role with her mother. Like any other community who constructively deals with an issue it faces, the community at Caregiving.com collaborated on what the proper term to use for those for whom are cared. “Successful communities evolve to keep pace with the changing needs of members and owners.” (Kim, 2000) Through discussion and subsequent polling of the online community, the term (and new word) ‘caree’ was developed and instituted on Caregiving.com. This type of collaboration creates healthy communities because a voice was heard, action was taken and results were achieved. Everyone felt a part of the process and now the word ‘Caree’ is often heard throughout the network of caregivers.
Human nature expresses the need for some form of personal contact with another. While Face-to-Face (F2F) contact is preferable, that is not practical for caregivers who often cannot leave their caree. For the caregiver, “We have also seen how large number of people have in fact begun to establish complex arrangements of long-standing, meaningful social relationships online.” (Thurlow et al., 2004 p.99) On-line communities provides a 24/7 outlet that F2F support groups cannot provide. Having the ability to connect with someone walking in the same footsteps, provides immeasurable care and comfort to a stressed out caregiver. During the 16 years of existence of Caregiving.com, strong personal relationships have been built through this online community.
Denise Brown started her online Caregiving journey with Caregiving.com in 1996. Like many healthy online communities, Caregiving.com recognized a need, then put a plan in place to meet the needs of the community of caregivers. Online communities are more than just a niche market; they are communities of real people facing real problems. Through the diversity of online communities, there is unity and a common bond because everyone shares the same footprint. However, the best part about healthy online communities as exemplified by Caregiving.com is that everyone is your friendly neighbor.
National Family Caregiving Alliance. (2009). Caregiving statistics. Retrieved from http://www.thefamilycaregiver.org/who_are_family_caregivers/Care_giving_statsitics. cfm
Brown, D. (2012, September 7). Interview by C. MacLellan [Personal Interview].
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., & Tomic, A. (2004). Computer mediated communication: Social interaction and the internet. (p. 100). London: SAGE.
Clifford, S. (2009, June 2). Online, ‘a reason to keep on going’. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/health/02face.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print
Kim, A. J. (2000). Community building on the web. (p. 21). Berkeley: Peachpit Press.
- Juggling the Costs of Dementia Care (everydayhealth.com)
- The Weight of the Matter (thepurplejacket.com)
- Eleven Years Later, Caregiving Is Still Difficult (and Perhaps Getting More Difficult) (caregiving.com)
- NBC Highlights Caregiving Campaign – And My Family! (aarp.org)
- For the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, Depression Is a Real Risk (everydayhealth.com)
- Taking the Pulse of Caregiving (aarp.org)