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Sometimes It Is Not The Electronic Ties That Bind Us - Just The Caring Stranger Who Can Be Bothered To Try To Find Us! (Or The Police Officer Who Highlighted The Dangers Of The Disconnected Electronic World)
Well, I must admit it was a bit different last week for me to be in the right country when it came to finding a newspaper so I could actually read about the subject of this post at my leisure.  (I even ended up being able to take a photo of their very useful sign - even if I didn't actally manage to find them to speak to.  Call me crazy but I don't actually feel comfortable wandering into the homes of total strangers.)  I am seriously considering asking them if they would like to be included in the "Inspirational People" section of this blog - at least I know their English is good!!!

The most useful sign I saw in Rotterdam - If you see this sign you are standing outside Wilco Berenschot's Pop-Up Police Station.  (Actually getting into the venue may be a bit difficult if it is in someone's home.)  Sometimes he is also found on street corners with a folding table and two folding chairs.  If you are not in Rotterdam but you want to find out about his venture he is on Twitter at @WT_Berenschot.

OK - before I get much further with this blog post I suppose I have to admit that - if there was a fanclub for this Police Officer I would become a member (and that was before the events of last week).

I think I was on a train back from Leeuwarden when this story started.  I read an ominous looking tweet from Mr Berenschot saying thar one of the residents of a street in Rotterdam near where his Pop-Up Police Station was located was worried because they hadn't seen someone for a while.  So, he decided to go to their flat and investigate.  The next tweet from him read that he was scared that when he found who he was looking for they would be dead. ("Hart in mijn keel" translates into "Heart in my throat".)

Never before have I felt so involved with a story which was being drip-fed to me in chapters of 140 characters - even if it was in Dutch.

This reader was extremely relieved when the tweet came through that the missing person was alive and well - if rather alarmed by a Police Officer climbing up his balcony and getting into his flat (I think they thought Mr Berenschot was chasing an intruder).

I didn't think anything more of it until the next morning when I saw a tweet from Mr Berenschot including the link to a newspaper article.  Usually, I would have been frustrated by the link because it showed half of the story and then asked you to subscribe to read the rest of it.  Not this time!  I went to the shop on the campsite I was staying at and bought a copy of the newspaper in question (it is on my desk as I type).

Then I started to get really upset by the full story.

Apparently the man who had "gone missing" had actually been in his flat the whole time - as well as for the previous decade - due to Agoraphobia.  If that wasn't bad enough there were stories (in the same article) of people laying dead in their flats for years before they were discovered.

The part of the story which upset me the most was Mr Berenschot saying that the man's bills were paid directly from his Bank Account (Dutch version of Council Tax, etc) so nobody had any excuse to come and visit him to find out if he needed any help.  I don't think the man had any family to make sure he was OK.

Mr Berenschot stayed with the man and helped him look through his post, etc, for a couple of hours.

This got me thinking about the perils of the Internet and Social Media as far as the vulnerable and alone are concerned.

Forget about the Child Abuse, Terrorism, Fraud, etc, which goes on, for a minute.  They are all instantly recognised as "Bad Things" which the Internet can be used for.

Maybe we should start worrying about things like "Isolation", "Fear", "Loss Of Money", even "Loss of Dignity", which can be and (in some cases) is the byproduct of the Internet age - especially when people either do not have mechanical (as in computer, mobile phone, or the funds to run either) access to the internet or the "theoretical" (as in not knowing how to use the Internet) access.

I remember being amazed when I managed to teach my English Grandma how to text.  This was a lady who was born in the era of the "Cat's Whisker" Radio - during her lifetime the TV was invented, computers were invented, homes started getting their own telephones (then the phones shrank and went mobile).  Oh - and the Internet itselt was invented.  Subjecting a lady in her late eighties to the "delights" of the internet just struck me as a cruel and unnatural punishment for the mere "crime" of having been born in 1922 - so I didn't bother with that.

Don't misunderstand me - I am as big a fan of the Internet as anyone.  After all, I can annoy you with my ramblings on here, I can find interesting humans to communicate with on "Social Media", I can read about (and watch videos of) events in different countries, etc.

However, what I cannot understand is how some people, Councils, Goverments, and Businesses, seem to have decided that the Internet replaces the human contact element of Society at large.  Thus leaving people like Mr Berenschot and his colleagues (both in The Netherlands and the UK) to pick up the pieces and help people who have fallen through the net.

The Internet should be used as a supplement to human contact instead of being used to replace it.

So - next time you don't see one of your friends or neighbours for quite some time, go round to their house, or ring them up to see if they are OK.  You never know - you might be the difference between someone being helped and them facing a very lonely death.

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