Free Hugs!

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March 11, 2016 by T. Gregory Argall

In 2009, “Wake” the first book in Robert J Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy was released. The story revolves around the idea of the vast sea of streaming data that is the Internet developing spontaneous sentience. The world wide web becomes aware of itself and the world around it. The events are shown, quite literally, through the eyes of a young woman named Caitlin Decter.
As can be said for anything any novel by Mr. Sawyer, it’s a wonderfully insightful, informative, and inspiring read. I enjoyed it a great deal and would recommend it to anyone, whether they are a fan of science fiction or not.

But that’s not I want to talk about today.

When the book was released, the publisher’s marketing department reasoned that since the novel focused on the Internet, so should the promotion. Makes sense. Among other things, a Facebook profile was made for the character of Caitlin Decter.
Whoever the person was that was tasked with creating and maintaining the fictional profile, they did a fantastic job. It wasn’t simply a front for pushing the novel. It was the profile of the actual character, a math prodigy who had recently regained her sight. Her timeline was a regular mix of cat videos, brainteasers, commentary on what was happening in the world at any given time.
The last book of the trilogy was released in 2011, but the Facebook presence is still active. I have no idea if it’s been the same person maintaining the account from the start or rotating series of interns changing with the seasons, but it’s been a consistent voice throughout and has never lapsed. People engage with Caitlin, sharing things on her page and she responds intelligently. Every year I get a Facebook message, “Happy birthday from your fictional friend.”
It’s a clever bit of marketing strategy that has outlasted its original purpose and taken on a life of its own.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Last Saturday, March 5, was “Hug-An-Argall Day,” a completely made-up occasion with no official status or standing in the real world, on a date that I chose at random on a whim, simply because I felt like doing something silly.
I made a Facebook Event page weeks in advance. You know, to give people time to prepare. In the event description I wrote,
Saturday, March 5, 2016 is International Hug-An-Argall Day.
Argalls are loveable sometimes furry creatures, sometimes not so furry. There are only about a thousand Argalls in the world but there’s a good chance that you know at least one. If not, then you probably know someone who does know an Argall.
On March 5 (or whenever the mood strikes) show an Argall how much they mean to you. Hug an Argall. Or, if you don’t have an Argall on hand, you can hug an Argall by proxy.
If you are an Argall, spread the word. This is our day. We’ve earned it.
I sent out random invitations to several Facebook friends, including all of the various Argalls with whom I’ve connected online. Then, to be honest, I forgot about it for a bit. But as the date drew closer, I noticed that more and more people were getting on board with the idea. People had shared it with their friends and relatives who had then shared it with their friends and relatives until a majority of the people who listed themselves as “attending” the event where people I have never met or heard of.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about today, but it’s close.

On Saturday, while going about my usual weekend routine and errands, I checked in occasionally on the “Hug-An-Argall Day” event page, curious to see any comments. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of comments throughout the day. People were using the day as an opportunity to reach out and reconnect with people they hadn’t seen or spoken with in a while. One woman wrote, “I drove about 600 miles to be able to hug an Argall descendant, my son Brad & his children.” While it’s unlikely that the hug alone was the sole purpose of the journey, it was the part that she felt was most noteworthy.
People shared photos and talked about missing each other and the need to get together more often. Another comment said, “I’m at Good Hope Landing, South Australia. I was an Argall prior to marriage, send a hug to my brothers.”
It was all a little overwhelming for me. I’m in Canada and people as far away as Australia were hugging each other because I’d had a silly idea.
Then this happened…
Decter hugWorking on a weekend, in charge of the leftover fictional social media profile from a marketing campaign that ended nearly five years ago, this person could very easily have dismissed the “Hug-An-Argall” thing irrelevant, but instead they chose to join in and take part.  (Yes, the first two parts above were just so that you’d see the significance of this bit.)

But all of that is not what I want to talk about today, either, although it’s closely connected.

For a single-syllable word boasting only three letters, “Hug” has a surprisingly extensive Wikipedia page. As physical expression, hugs are incredibly versatile. A hug can be a greeting or a farewell; it can mean, “I love you,” or it can simply show emotional support. Hugs are one of the simplest and most expressive forms of positive non-verbal communication. Not everyone is comfortable with a hug, but often just the offer of a hug is enough.

With a relatively small number of people named Argall, the idea of “Hug-An-Argall Day” had a far-reaching effect. Think how much more of a positive impact “Hug-A-Davis Day” would have. “Hug-A-Cooper Day” or “Hug-A-Chan Day” or “Hug-A-Bartucci Day” or “Hug-A-Singh Day.” Having “Hug-A-Smith Day” just once could potentially solve so many problems in Western civilization.
Admittedly, there’s a chance that the point of “Hug-A-Johnson Day” could be wildly misinterpreted but it’s all about spreading joy, so I think it’s worth trying anyway.

So that’s my challenge to you. Organise a “Hug-A-[Your name here] Day” and see how many people climb on board that train with you.
You’ll be surprised.

And that’s what I wanted to talk about today.

Try to be nice to each other.




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