By Vik Gill
I’ve written previously about the dark side of social media. But there’s a nice side too. A Facebook friend and former colleague of mine, Jackie Eastham, made the national news this week in a story about how she helped an obese, alcoholic man in America turn his life around. Brian, from Michigan, USA met Jackie, who lives in London, through the popular ‘Draw Something’ Pictionary-inspired drawing game.
By then, thirty year-old Brian had become pre-diabetic and his health was deteriorating rapidly. He’d dropped out of college, lost his job, become depressed and was spending most of his time playing computer games, drinking vodka and eating fast food. Having met Jackie randomly through Draw Something, Brian gradually starting confiding in her about his problems. Jackie, twenty years older than Brian, responded with a good dose of tough love, telling him that he was wasting his life. You see, Jackie knows something about struggling to maintain quality of life – because she lives with myotonic muscular dystrophy, a condition that causes progressive wasting of the muscles. She manages her condition by living a very healthy lifestyle. Inspired by Jackie and their burgeoning online friendship, Brian quit drinking, improved his diet and took up exercise. These positive changes resulted in him losing over 370 pounds in fifteen months. After the first year of their online friendship, which had progressed from chats via Draw Something to Jackie motivating Brian via Facebook and Skype, they met in person in London, subsequently travelling to Paris to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower together. That was an achievement Brian would not have been capable of a year previously.
As a doctoral student, I’m investigating how UK social enterprises use information and communications technologies (ICT) to achieve their health and social care missions. Through my ongoing research, I’m witnessing first-hand the power that social media and other digital technologies can bring to improving the lives of patients and communities. And as Founder and Managing Director of a boutique consultancy providing digital communications training and consulting services to organisations that have social change goals, I’m striving to demonstrate meaningful impact of my empirical research – and to help organisations use ‘digital’ to improve lives and strengthen communities.
But as Jackie and Brian’s story demonstrates, and as our own Horsham Facebook page attests with every cat reunited with its owner, with every pound raised for local charities and with every ‘good deed’ performed by and for others – it’s not just organisations who are using social media for social good. Perhaps you are too.