I GOT A MESSAGE from Facebook this morning.
“Jack,” it began, “we care about you and the memories that you share.” Enclosed, thoughtfully, was a photo I had posted four years previously. Would I like to make it public again?
Now, a cynic might have replied: “Of course you care. Were it not for me and the memories I share, Facebook wouldn’t have seen its revenue grow 48 per cent to $26.2 billion US in the first three months of this year.”
But I, of course, am not a cynic. I took the message for what it really was — a pleasantly surprising act of kindness by a trans-national corporate behemoth with my best interests at heart.
So I sent a response: “Thanks for caring about my feelings. As the pandemic stretches into a second summer, emptying the calendar of the events with which we normally fill our days, I realize my existence is a hollow shell, devoid of purpose, passion and meaning.
“Strip away the polite facade, remove the inconsequential trivia with which we clutter our minds, and the vacuum is ineluctably filled with the great, overwhelming, unanswerable questions about the human condition and life itself. On the other hand, my tomato plants are coming up nicely. Say hi to Zuckerberg!”
It’s nice to have friends with whom you can express yourself freely.
Facebook is not my only distant confidante, though. I get earnest check-ins from a whole range of interests who, even while conducting business from places thousands of kilometres away, are eager to ensure I’m doing OK.
“Jack, we hope you are doing well in these unprecedented times,” they write. “You know what would make you feel better? A new truck.” There is an entire community of such helpers. It takes a village.
Not that this sort of corporate caring is new. Twenty years ago I began getting Christmas cards from an Illinois-based manufacturer of printing-related equipment. I don’t know how our relationship began, as I had absolutely nothing to do with the press at the Times Colonist.
Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that while others would drift in and out of my life, I could at least count on my old pals in Illinois, whose cards would arrive with the dependable timing of one of the company’s own three-stage compensating stackers.
I would also get personal Christmas greetings from politicians I had never met, though none went as far as Paul Martin, who as federal Liberal leader in 2002 took time out of his busy schedule to send a card to a dead golden retriever from Saanich that had somehow made it onto the party’s membership list.
The dog also received two invitations from the B.C. Young Liberals to attend functions at the University of Victoria, a gracious gesture given that Gregg (that was the retriever’s name) wasn’t even an alumnus.
These days see fewer holiday greetings, but an absolute avalanche of communications from far-off correspondents who, while embarrassingly anonymous to me, nonetheless consider themselves familiar enough to use my first name. Sometimes they use an exclamation point — “Jack!” — to show how excited they are to have me in their lives.
I raise all this now because I just phoned a distant service provider, only to be answered by a recording: “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.”
So, I stayed on the line. And stayed. Answered some emails. Watched The Irishman on Netflix, twice. Stayed some more.
Then, while waiting, I discovered that mine was not an isolated case. I stumbled across a December Business Wire story about a survey of call centres, one that found hold times had increased 50 per cent since the start of the pandemic. Just over half of all callers had waited more than 30 minutes to get a response.
“Good heavens,” I thought. “Here are these poor people who care about me so much, but who are unable to answer my call. They must be beside themselves with worry. Maybe I should message them on Facebook, let them know I’m alright.”
Maybe we should all write our far-off connections when put on hold like that, if only to assure them that we care about them just as much as they care about us.