You know, there’s nothing like social media to grab a fistful of your shirt, pick you up on tiptoes, and give you a good stern smack in the face.
Maybe that’s why we like it so much.
There’s no doubt we’re all moving more quickly these days, especially those of us in the Digital First world, as we try to get you better news faster. Much of that mission rests on the cyber shoulders of Facebook and Twitter, those known and trusted online accelerants.
But that same collection of bits and bytes pushing us forward like we’re a screeching toddler on an outdoor swing can sometimes slow us down. Way down.
It’s the mother that grabs the playground chains with both hands, stern-faced, and brings all the fun to a sputtering stop.
I had one of those moments on a day when I had planned to quickly check The Evening Sun’s Facebook page, then move on to other off-day activities. Friends were coming to town, and there was plenty to do around the house.
Then I saw the picture.
A grinning teddy bear of a football player, flexing a bicep not quite as big as his smile, at South Western High School.
A pretty young girl, with a mock-serious expression on her face and a ponytail holder hugging her wrist as she struck a pose next to him.
And a whisper from somewhere that said to pause mid-click. Because I know those faces.
Here’s what the reporter in me registered: Josh Hertz was killed last summer, in a car accident on Impounding Dam Road. Gaby Sicard was killed in Decemeber, in another wreck over in the western part of the state.
I wrote a story about each of them.
But I never realized they were friends.
According to Josh’s little sister, Autumn Hertz, they were. The pair loved to clown around together, Autumn said. “Josh always loved Gaby,” Autumn said. “They were so cute.”
There are dozens of pictures like that, she said.
And dozens of people responded, within minutes of the picture appearing online. There were some 47 “likes” in the first 45 minutes, after I posted it on the newspaper’s Facebook page.
That’s the kind of thing we talk about here — how to bring local residents and readers together through the Internet. That picture is the kind of thing we’d likely not have a place for in print. But it resonated right away with those following us online.
I was glad to see that; it’s nice to (again) have proof of how close the Hanover community can be, when it comes to such things.
And so quickly, too.
That speed is part of the power of the social media, a tool editors and reporters at the paper are still learning to use, but that we want to harness. After all, life certainly isn’t printed once daily.
The hope is that with Facebook and Twitter and (soon) Pinterest and other sites, we can interact more quickly with locals, and come along for the ride during the day-to-day blur of life here in Hanover.
Yet there are times, I think, while struggling to catch that news feed falling ever away from you, when something shifts. Just one post or paragraph or picture, that demands a pause.
When I saw that image of Josh and Gaby today, the rest of the pixelated page melted away.
I thought of a breezy day last summer in Manheim Township. The Hertz family and friends had graciously invited me out to listen to their stories about Josh.
We sat in chairs under an old oak tree, beside a sagging clothesline.
“He would pick me up off my feet and hug me,” Michele Hertz said that afternoon, remembering her football-playing, ever-smiling son. He had just come home from a college visit.
Ms. Hertz, incidentally, was one among those dozens to comment online about that picture of her boy and Gaby this weekend.
“We love and miss you both beyond measure,” she said.
Just a few strokes on a keyboard this weekend, presumably from that same Manheim Township home. Nearly a year later. And online — seemingly so far from the backyard breeze I watched dry her tears.
It was all enough to interrupt my afternoon. To make me wonder how she’s doing. To think of Josh, who I never met but feel like I know.
That’s this vacuous social media so many dismiss. All fluff and no substance. And what a waste of time for kids these days.
Until it isn’t, of course. Until it smacks you in the face again, and the sting almost brings you to tears.