Work, the Internet, and the ties that bind us

When you lose someone, whether you bonded with that person over work or in an online forum, the grief is the same.

I got a message through Facebook this morning that broke my heart. OldMycroft, one of my Facebook "friends," and a long-standing member of the TechRepublic online community passed away. News of his passing was a blow even though I'd never laid eyes on the man. That's because he was such a fixture in the TechRepublic forums and he and I often exchanged emails concerning the topics I wrote about in the Career Management blog. In fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that he and I were commiserating on Facebook about our shared allergies to tree pollen.

Last month, a man I worked with for several years at a previous company passed away. What might have been sad news about a former close associate was more acutely felt because he and I had kept close tabs on each other by email through the years. In fact, I spoke at his memorial service. In that speech, I referred to the group of co-workers that I lunched with everyday as my "air family" and he was my "air brother." (This was in reference, of course, to the term "air guitar.")

Our work often brings us into contact with people who become some of the most important parts of our lives. With coworkers you share the trials and tribulations and triumphs of a workplace you share. You spend so much of your waking hours with them that you develop a shorthand way of speaking to one another.

Usually, our work friends see the best of us. They don't see us in our grumpy, haven't-had-coffee-yet states. They don't see the sides of us that nag about the laundry not being done and they don't personally share the anxiety about that house payment that is overdue. It's a bond that I don't think is given enough weight.

Online communities are becoming the same way. They start out with the solidarity of shared interests, but so often morph into the development of personal relationships -- relationships that are not diminished by the lack of live, face-to-face interaction. Because email and the Internet have made it so much easier for people to know one another, the type of grief that I'm feeling today may be something I have to get used to.

RIP, OldMycroft.