As he begins chemotherapy treatment, our Communications Director Mark Davies writes about how the web has served as a lifeline during a traumatic month. Follow him on Twitter at @markdavies67.
I started working at the Web Foundation in March. Life has now rudely interrupted what had been a wonderful few months and I’m on sick leave, starting treatment for myeloma, a blood cancer.
This is, of course, not ideal. But amid the whirlwind of the last few weeks, I have been thankful for many things, not least the power of the web to provide creativity and comfort.
Among the stories of all that is wrong with the web, and there is much to be appalled by, it’s easy to focus on the gloom and lose sight of all the good things that the web brings to our lives. Certainly, a cancer diagnosis offers swathes of potential for misery and anxiety through inadvisable online surfing, but on balance the web has given me far more cause for hope and fellowship than it has sunk my fragile mood.
I have been able to get good, reliable advice — not to mention grounds for hope — about my condition, thanks to the brilliant charities Myeloma UK and Blood Cancer UK. Advice about how to talk to my children about this sudden change in our lives was also easy to find. I have become a frequent visitor to online support forums, where the sense of being part of a community that cares is overwhelming and life-affirming.
But the web helps in wider ways too. I tweeted about my illness and received messages of support from old friends and new, which made more difference than I could have imagined. When I asked for music recommendations to keep my spirits up, I had messages from all over the world, from old school friends and from new ones many miles away. Good songs too.
When I wake up in the middle of the night and start to worry, I reach for my phone and distract myself by watching Netflix or the IPL cricket highlights. Podcasts, meanwhile, have become absolutely essential to my day-to-day. When my son was wondering how to do his art homework, we found a pixel painting site and he created a wonderful image of the US President. When our dishwasher packed in, the web made it easy to find someone to try to repair it (and, sadly, a quick way to buy a new one).
But it’s the fellowship and friendship I’ve found on that web that’s been most important. The people that have reached out unexpectedly and could only do so thanks to the web. The friends I’ve made who are going through something similar, some from the other side of the world, others just down the road.
So many of the good things that have happened to me in the last few days and weeks would have been impossible or extremely difficult without the web. Of course, brilliant in-person support groups exist and, when possible, it will be hugely helpful to sit down and talk face-to-face to people in the same room. Until then, I’m so grateful I can keep connections with old friends and make new ones at a time I need them most.
I’m lucky, of course. Lucky to have the lifeline that the web provides. Lucky to live in an area with good broadband and to be able to afford enough data and decent devices. Many don’t have such good access, or indeed — in hundreds of millions of cases — any access at all.
This experience has reminded me of why I joined the Web Foundation in the first place. We can not forget that the web, for all its faults, is at its best an incredible force for good. We must keep fighting for the kind of web we want, for everyone.
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