What “Social Networks” Really Mean – It Ain’t Zeros and Ones

I have been ruminating about this post for over a week, and when I give that much time to think, I try to offer a post that is more than my typical rant, firm grasp of the obvious or take on social media.  I try to offer something that, well, says something.

This is one of those times.

I have learned a lot more than I thought I knew about social networks the past couple of weeks.  No, not the movie that trashes Mark Zuckerberg, but what is at the heart of social media.  The magic is not in the technology, it’s in those who use it and what is in their hearts.  So forget Klout (barf), Empire Avenue and the latest toy that is all the rage and dangling IPOs to Wall Street.  The people who offer messages that convey intentions, intense feelings and wishes are prime example of social networking.

As I have mentioned in the past, an unfortunate driving force in my life has been cancer – its insidious nature and even in treatment, it’s horrific impact on the patients, families and caregivers.  For this reason, I have been vocal (and probably annoying) in my support of The Jimmy Fund, St. Baldrick’s, Doug Haslam’s Pan Mass Challenge and now Jennifer Stauss Windrum’s WTF (Where’s the Funding? – as in, for lung cancer). Author’s note: if you have not already, donated, you cheap bastards.

Jennifer has written a moving post about this, so I’ll keep the summary short and sweet.  Her mom, who is suffering from stage 4 inoperable cancer, has endured years of treatment.  Through and eloquence and bravery that I could not have summoned during my own experience with this, she has chronicled the journey and used her energy to advocate for more funding for lung cancer (her mom never smoked, as she often rightfully points out).  She and in her mom were in a bad place (literally, stuck in Denver) and those of us in a Facebook group saw that she was hurting – hurting and exhausted.  When you are not sitting next to someone, you still have the opportunity to use a social network to impact someone’s life – the emotions are real, but the vehicle is just that – it’s used to transport an emotion from one person to another – or to a group of people.

Jennifer brought along two sock monkeys that her daughters gave her to help cheer up her mom.  It was then that an idea germinated – elegant in its simplicity, yet – what we had hoped – powerful in its impact.  And apparently it was.

On Saturday, many of us in the Facebook group decided to change our profile pics to sock monkeys to show Jennifer, her mom and others involved in this fight that, although miles separated many of us, we were right there with her.  Although the idea surfaced on a Saturday morning, by the end of the weekend, an overwhelming number of people had changed their profile pics to sock monkeys to demonstrate our support.  Jennifer was tied up most of the weekend, but when she discovered our efforts, she emailed me the following:

“I am overwhelmed and blessed…Please tell everyone how touched my mom and I are.”

And in her blog post, she said:

OMG. OMG. I was literally speechless…and crying even more. I showed one of my friends what was going on. She started crying too. It was just so touching (you know, in a punk way). MORE than touching…and hilarious at the same time.”

The wonderful news about this – and I believe that some good always emerges from tragedy – is that so many people took advantage of a social networking platform to touch Jennifer and her mom in what we presumed to be a low point in their battle against cancer.

My main point is it’s not about the zeros and ones and the ridiculous new, shiny social media objects that seem to show up daily.  It’s about the bonds, the shared experiences, the pain, support, happiness and sorrow that are felt, conveyed and delivered.  They are delivered by social media, but where all of this is generated is in someone’s heart – and delivered via a keyboard and Internet connection.

Know how those ridiculous car ads say that although the car might say “Toyota” or “Nissan,” it’s “made with pride in the U.S.A?”  Well, this something was made through compassion and delivered through support via zeros and ones.  And punks – and you know who you are – you are the best.

And I know you really know this now, but we love you Jennifer.




  1. Mark….damn it. You made me start crying AGAIN. Happy tears, though. As I have said before, I don’t even know how to convey my thanks. I am uber blessed to have such amazingly caring and supportive friends like you. Thanks again. #Punkmonkeymojo!

  2. Mark- I think you have just created the latest best answer to “why do you think Social Media is such a big deal?” For those that don’t get it, maybe…..just maybe….
    I can’t tell you how proud I am to have been a very small part of this. Not ashamed at all to mention this was a totally selfish endeavor- I got so much more out of it than I put in. Punkmonkeys rock. To quote another, #thatisall.

  3. Mark, you are so right that social media isn’t all zeroes and ones. Your summary of the punkmonkey episode illustrates just some of the wonder and generosity that social media can support and foster. As Jeff says above, your post helps answer the “Why Social Media?” question.

    Kudos to you for the idea and for this post, which helps share the story yet again. It will be interesting to see where the punkmonkeys lead us. I also am proud to have been part of the initiative (albeit late to the game) and am so grateful that it has had such a positive impact for Jen and her mom, for us and perhaps for people we aren’t even aware of yet.

  4. Thank you for writing this, Mark, and I agree with @Jeff that this is yet another wonderful example of the magic of social media. The power in the realtime web is that it has the ability to use “ones and zeros” to connect to real-world actions, behaviors and emotions. Our sock monkey avatars were digital, but they helped multiply the comfort that the real sock monkeys were bringing to Jen and her mom.
    And they made all of us feel more connected with Jen, and helped me get a real education on lung cancer by bringing me to Jen’s blog. Go #punkmonkeys.

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