08 June 2009

When "Friends" are Forever

I was driving my car running some things through my head, one of which was an informational dump from someone I knew 35 years ago. I was so intent on parsing it through my brain that I turned off the radio, closed the windows, turned on the AC and just thought about what she had done, in a single message, and what it made me realise. We live in a moment in time when it is possible for us, those who are over 40 to reconnect with anyone we ever knew if they have left some type of cyber-trail. What makes this so unique, is that our children will not have an issue with this because they leave bread crumbs everywhere they go and it is not an oddity for them to be fully connected to people around them be they friends, foes or otherwise. I located an old friend just today who used to fly me around the San Francisco region in a Cessna 150 as long as we split the cost of aviation fuel which was all of $3.50 at the time per flight. I asked her to friend me and the jury is still out on whether she will friend me back. So I live with the anxiousness of whether she will, and then wonder what I do next. How does one go about bridging a 33 year gap and then add to it that we were more than just friendly acquaintances – I am left totally discombobulated. Will she wonder whether I am trying to reconnect with her? What will her husband think if she has a husband? Will my first message be "So Anthea, what's been happening since the last time we flew to Monterey Bay?

I pity people who have accounts on all the various social media sites because they are in constant discovery of "new" old friends who may, or may not connect with them. So as I was driving, I was thinking about the note from Joanne detailing what has happened to her life since we last saw each other and said our seemingly last goodbye. She was able to distill her life into four very neatly ordered paragraphs covering her parents, marriage, children and professional life. Oh, and a final note saying "I am an obnoxious know-it-all, but I think I was like that even when you knew me." So now what? Once you open yourself up to another person online, do you simply dump your life details and move on to the next person? Do you meet them somewhere for lunch or dinner? Do you aggregate the demand and set up a reunion type event for multiple people? Who writes the playbook about this kind of stuff? What is proper etiquette?

Back to my children who will, of course make non-cyber based friends, but it is more likely than not that they will remain cyber-connected with no end in sight as long as Facebook et al remains a vital application. What happens if Facebook suddenly dies, and with it we lose all those cyber-based connections? While that seems unimaginable, old technology is constantly displaced by new killer apps. Someday the IPhone will seem as crude as those cell phones we see in movies from the 1980s. When I graduated high school during ancient times relationships ended, that was it! We went off to college, at least I did, and made new friends, and when college was over, I went to graduate school and made new friends leaving behind the old. I left graduate school and moved overseas and made new friends. Along the way there were people I really missed, but life was, at least to me, a process of moving forward and never looking back. Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Google, and an entire cacophony of cyber-tools make it so one never ever really has to leave anyone behind. It used to be expensive to make a telephone call and reconnect but now we have Skype and you can reach anyone anywhere for virtually no cost at all. We live in a connected world except for those who eshew technology - the luddites.

The fact is that our children, let's say people 30 and under, have lived in a world where computers and connectivity and the Internet have been as ubiquitous as bicycles, walking to school and writing letters and mailing them were to us. Remember what we thought of someone whose family didn't own a TV set? They were odd and more than likely shunned, or at the least considered strange. No child today between the age of 10 and 30 can really be without a computer because without the requisite technological skills, they will be held back professionally. So my generation is the last one which is able to use the excuse that we didn't grow up with a computer and society takes pity on us. I honestly hear the following within IT circles - "just wait 10 years and they will all be gone." When we are all gone, and out of the game, everyone will know how to use a computer, understand social media, be able to remain connected with every single person they have met throughout their lives but will they be able to communicate on a human level? I can see the future, "Have my bot contact your bot and schedule a date for when we can meet."

In closing this discussion, let me make something perfectly clear. I love the ability to reconnect with people from my past. I have been very fortunate in reconnecting with people who really played a significant role in the past. My concern is what happens to the 90 percent of people who friend you and did not play a significant role in your past. What do you say to those people, the ones who played a minor walk on role in your life so many years ago? Do you not accept their offer of "friending" on Facebook? Do you simply leave them hanging? As someone who was an outsider way back then I tend to accept every invite because one can never have too many friends in a cyber world.

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