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The Upside of Facebook

Summary:
Many people have been critical of Facebook in the last few years and many of the criticisms have been justified. It often does bring out the meanness in people when they comment on political events or on other people. But Facebook has a huge upside also. I experienced it from late Saturday to now. The upside is that it allows people to express their sympathies to a person when something bad happens to him or his loved ones. I had flown to Toronto on Friday and had made plans with my sister, April, to see her that weekend. That was the main purpose of the trip. But when I started texting her on November 26 to start tying down the plans (would I take her for dinner or lunch or both?–that kind of thing), I received no answer. I got very worried when I texted my cousin

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Many people have been critical of Facebook in the last few years and many of the criticisms have been justified. It often does bring out the meanness in people when they comment on political events or on other people.

But Facebook has a huge upside also. I experienced it from late Saturday to now. The upside is that it allows people to express their sympathies to a person when something bad happens to him or his loved ones.

I had flown to Toronto on Friday and had made plans with my sister, April, to see her that weekend. That was the main purpose of the trip. But when I started texting her on November 26 to start tying down the plans (would I take her for dinner or lunch or both?–that kind of thing), I received no answer. I got very worried when I texted my cousin Stanley Friday night after I landed to see if she had called him to wish him happy birthday. (She does so like clockwork and she and I had talked about that fact a few weeks earlier when my birthday was coming up the previous week.) Stanley texted back that she hadn’t.

So Saturday morning I went to her apartment and knocked on the door, receiving no answer. I managed to get a constable from Toronto Community Housing, the government agency that manages the building in which she receives subsidized housing, to come to the building. When he showed up, he told me that she had died earlier in the week.

I mourned and visited a funeral home to arrange cremation. I also went to a friend’s office party that afternoon and evening where singing karaoke and visiting people lightened my mood.

Saturday night, when I got back to the place of my friend where I was staying, I announced her death on Facebook.

The outpouring of condolences was incredible. I’ve just never experienced anything like it. We had nothing like this when my mother died (1969), my brother (1970), or my father (1997). I was always able to mourn those deaths with my sister. Now, of course, I can’t. But people on Facebook have been wonderful.

So I second what co-blogger Bryan Caplan said recently about the huge value firms like Facebook give us.

P.S. I also couldn’t complete everything I wanted to do without extending by a day. So when I called United to change my flight, I expected that the person would charge me a change fee that would be refunded if I produced a death certificate. She nicely waived the change fee. So good on United, an airline I don’t often compliment.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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