Muhammad Umer Toor
One fine day not too long ago I received a call from a class fellow. There was urgency in his voice: “Umer, has the professor changed the date of the finals?” “No,” I said. “Then why have you announced on the class blog that the finals have been postponed?” I was shocked, “But it wasn’t me!”
A quick look at the website told me that his words were true; somebody had hacked my Gmail account and posted false information through it. Not only was the class blog hacked, but my personal blog had also been infiltrated. The latter was particularly painful as I had invested an entire year building my blog and maintaining my interaction with the global audience of interesting, thoughtful people it had given me access to.
In the greater scheme of things this incident may seem like an utterly insignificant occurrence; as identity theft and fraud become more common, people are facing far more serious consequences than hacked email accounts and lost blogs. However, the despair that I felt surprised me, and it was only later that I was able to understand the reasons for my reaction.
In the era of cyberspace, online interaction has acquired a very significant role in the lives of those who indulge in it, primarily because it has opened up an entire world that we would otherwise have limited access to. The possibilities it provides are endless, and the scope to explore immense. And through this has arisen the opportunity to form the unlikeliest of friendships.
I am well aware that the majority of my online network consists of individuals from far off places whom I will probably never meet in person. Yet, this has not restricted us in forming real and lasting bonds with one another. The best example of this is my friend Angela O’Connell, an elderly lady living in England. I had chanced upon her website – Art of Intuition – while browsing the internet one day, and had sent her a set of questions on intuition, some related to the meaning of intuition in Islam. She responded with answers, which prompted further questions from my end. And so it began, back and forth, me with my insatiable curiosity, her with her patient and thoughtful responses. And after a few months of this, she surprised me with a present: a book on intuition by Malcolm Gladwell, entitled “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking”. From so many miles away she sent me a token to demonstrate that she cared.
Angela is just one of the special people in my online network that I frequently call upon for support, advice and guidance. This network represents a resource that I sometimes find lacking in my immediate environment. In fact, when I emailed Angela to ask her permission to mention her name in this article, she summed up perfectly what I am trying to say here: “Yes, by all means mention my name – I might not know you face to face but I feel I know you heart to heart.”
Angela’s words also reminded me of the strange irony inherent in such friendships: some of the people I consider my closest friends are, in a sense, unknown to me. We are divided by distance and differing cultural experiences, and have only a computer screen on which to build and maintain our relationships. But it is a triumph of the human spirit I suppose, to overcome such ‘trivial’ issues in pursuit of what really matters: the human connection.