After 15 years of the Internet, I thought I’d heard from pretty much everyone I’d ever crossed paths with since being born. But the other day there was a comment on a video I’d uploaded to YouTube: “did you attend Flathead H.S.?”
I recognized the name. We’d been close friends during my freshman year. All the girls back then loved the way he danced. Once he was helping work cows at my folks’ ranch and got kicked in the chin by a calf. He said he still had the scar. During our brief e-mail correspondence that was pretty much the high point of our shared memories.
It was good to know what became of him, but I don’t think we’ll be staying touch. No reason we should. Internet reconnections are like that: you are delighted to hear from somebody and then in the awkward span that follows you realize there’s a reason you lost touch. His dad was in the Air Force and got transferred the following year. My folks moved not long after. Neither of us ever thought to write.
That’s OK. When you recognize a familiar name and say hello, it’s not really about trying to reforge a friendship. It’s more about reassurance — that your youth really happened and that everyone you knew is growing older too. No one gets a pass. My friend from Flathead High School is in his 60s now, just like me, with kids and grandkids, and probably a waistline, and a lifetime of memories that don’t involve the fatuous dorks we were back then. Way too much to explain over coffee. I remember his easy way with the girls; he remembers the time we rode horses and he got kicked by that calf. I guess neither memory has much to do with who we’ve become.
In the earlier days of the Internet, there was a lot of talk about how it would transform the physics of human relationships. But it hasn’t really made much difference, has it? Yes, people can meet up on Match.com and hail old friends across the decades, but any real relationship still requires physical proximity once in awhile. It still needs the real smiles, and frowns, and laughter and dubious glances, as opposed to the emoticons that are supposed to represent them.
At least that’s been my experience. I don’t think I have any real friends that I can credit solely to the Internet. (Facebook friends don’t count.) How about you?
Oh, Dave, you are SO right with this post! Recently, I somehow reconnected with a couple of old friends (out of touch for twenty years), and yep, after that brief, “Oh, wow, what have you been up to?” there was really not much to say. The friends in real life mean so much more than these fleeting glimpses of past years…and I can look at them face to face as we solve the problems of the world!
Dave Knadler says
Yep. An online friendship is kind of like eating an online dinner.
John H. says
What? Are you saying that you and I are not bosom buddies? Just kidding. I completely agree about friendships online, and about reconnecting with people. In particular, this phrase really resonates with me: “reassurance…that your youth really happened”.
On the other hand, I’ve found a couple of on-line “communities” (e.g. Yahoo groups) that allow sharing of hobbies and, to some extent, personal experiences. I don’t consider the other members to be friends. But we do share something, even if it’s just the illusion that someone out there understands or appreciates something in the same way I do.
Dave Knadler says
I get that. A shared interest is one thing, a relationship quite another. I think most of us are smart enough not to confuse the two.
I have ONE true friend that I only know through the internet. We connected on a ten thousand strong online community for the unemployed a few years back. ONE out of ten thousand. That tells you how rare that is. We are of different races, backgrounds, and lifestyles, but enjoy sharing our lives and encouraging each other.
A couple of times, I have developed an on line acquaintance, then the person just vanished into the ether. It makes you wonder if something bad happened to them, or if they just drifted away.
I don’t belong to FB. It simply doesn’t make sense to me. If you really know someone who cares what you are doing or wants to see your pictures, there is email, snail mail, or the phone. The reason for posting your life on FB escapes me.
Dave Knadler says
I do know a few people who have formed some apparently close bonds through the Internet. And you still hear about people who actually fall in love that way. But not, I hope, via Facebook.
You know, there was actually a really involved sociological study done on this very point — whether the internet facilitated social connections that wouldn’t have existed otherwise, or if it had an overall dampening effect. A town in Canada were all given high speed internet connections, and how they used them (if they choose to turn them on) was studied. Turns out that human connections still pretty much happen in real space; the internet was used pretty much just to set up non internet-mediated social contact, but among relationships that were already established and functional, it deepened ties, even if the parties were geographically separated. People said it made folks who were far away feel close. But it did NOT substantively change the overall amount of social connections people had, or change how they socialized, which was still very analog. The study authors called it “glocalization.”
Dave Knadler says
I like that kind of study. Especially when it seems to support my intuition: You can’t form a relationship online, but you might be able to sustain one. If you’re a decent writer, anyway.