Do you use Facebook?
When I first got online, it was the very early nineties. I had a dial up unix shell account through Georgia State University, and later on an account with Delphi (both of these were text based only, because, well, MS-DOS). When I wanted to write a friend, I got out a pen and paper, and for a long time I wrote, and received, a lot of letters.
Then, as the 1990s went on, I lost touch with a lot of my old friends. We parted ways… different schools, different lives. One went to NYU, one to Harvard, another to UCLA, I joined the Army. My closest friends were spread across the continent, and with few exceptions I had no contact with any of my childhood and high school friends.
One of my closest friends in middle school and early in high school: we lost touch. For a lot of years, I tried to Google him, but some people have common names, and then some people have names they share with 100,000 others. So I was stunned when about a year ago we reconnected on Facebook.
In fact, in the last three years, I’ve reconnected with the group of kids I hung out with at Sutton Middle School in Atlanta almost 30 years ago. One of them owns a highly successful art gallery in Istanbul. Another is a charter pilot. Another is a screenwriter with a few mini-series under his belt and possibly some feature films on the way. Still another is editor of a community newspaper in South Carolina.
It astonishes me when I see the lives that my friends have made for themselves. When I see pictures of kids, spouses, talk about their careers. I’ve reconnected with old girlfriends (and one ex-fiance). People who I met in Israel in 1988. People who I met and befriended in virtual worlds in Second Life, then later became friends with on Facebook, and in a couple cases ended up meeting up in the real world for lunch.
My kids take this stuff for granted (or, rather, my daughter does… my son has no desire to be on Facebook because it would involve interacting with people), but for me it is still a radical change.
On the one hand, it’s truly remarkable to be able to become friends with people who I’ve not seen in many years. But it also retains a certain distance. We curate our online presence… we edit everything we post. I’ve posted personal things online, both on my blog and on Facebook. But the things that are truly deep and personal… the things we are ashamed of, scared of… those rarely make it into online interactions.
The value of something like Facebook is it keeps a lifeline open in lives that are sometimes lived in utter isolation. But it doesn’t substitute for genuine, real life friendship. Sitting in front of the computer just isn’t the same as sitting across the table from someone. Sharing a link is just not the same as sharing a pitcher of beer. And poking someone virtually just… never mind.
In short, Facebook and other social networks open a door of communications. But we have to walk through that door. In our increasingly hectic lives, in a difficult economy, in a sprawl of cities and suburbia that seems to expand our distance between each other more and more each year, it’s that much more important that we stop and take the time to connect with real people, not just their online representation.
Have you reconnected with old friends online? And did that ever lead to renewed real life friendships?