Social media is encroaching upon every aspect of our lives – but this week I was reminded how it can be of enormous benefit to us.

My family spent the weekend in Shropshire celebrating my father-in-law’s 70th birthday. I didn’t post anything on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter as I was busy playing with the kids, wise-cracking with my brothers-in-law and gorging on a huge Friday night feast.

On Saturday morning I read a Messenger message from my friend Alex who, when I last saw him 10 years ago, was living in Barcelona. It read: “U in Shrewsbury?”

A couple of messages and a free Messenger phone call later, I learned that he’d moved to the area and was planning to attend the same food festival as us later that morning. We spent the afternoon meeting one others’ wives and kids, sharing stories and sampling the local ales and ciders.

Messenger

How had he known I was in his neck of the woods? My sister-in-law had tagged me in a Facebook post.

The great advantage and disadvantage of being on Facebook can be summed up in one sentence: everyone potentially knows where you are and what you are doing. I usually come down on the negative side during these discussions, but on this occasion, I was glad that Big Brother was watching.

People might say that real friends would have one another’s mobile numbers and be connected on WhatsApp, but rest assured that Alex and I are good mates. We go back many years but have both lived in a number of European countries and found Messenger to be the most convenient method of keeping in contact.

On Monday I interviewed Gary Stewart, director of Wayra UK, the innovation arm of telecommunications firm Telefónica, about the opening this week of the Open Future_North accelerator in Oldham.

He hails from the Bronx in New York City but has lived in Europe for years, mainly in Madrid and Barcelona before moving to London. He used to have to ring his mum every Saturday to reassure her that he was fine – but now she gains that reassurance through his Facebook posts, something even more important to her today as Europe suffers one terror attack after another.

He told me that social media and WhatsApp – they use the free calling facility on that platform – allow her to remain an active part of his busy life.

When the doom merchants predict a dystopian future where Facebook knows everything, they might have a point – but at least we’ll be able to share a beer or two with long-lost friends along the way.

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