Monday, April 12, 2010

Weird World

I signed into Facebook for the first time three years ago, mostly because I was writing an article about social networking sites. Thinking back about it, my piece was a complete misread of how Facebook would really impact my generation. Most of my first Friends were students of mine--half my age--at the university where I as teaching. So I didn't network with them much. (I do sometimes think before I click.)

Now, like a lot of people, I find that Facebook is trying to eat my life. I have nearly three hundred Friends, many of whom I actually know, and I look at my goddamn page, like, eight times a day. And I have a job.

One thing that Facebook and My Space have given us is the freedom to enjoy a new variation of Drunken Dialling. Instead of getting blotto and calling up ex-girlfriends, now we can all locate, text and then Skype with people we haven't spoken to in thirty years! With whom we probably have nothing left in common!!

One such figure who has emerged out of my dubious, blood-soaked past is my old high school friend, Noel. Back in the day, Noel was a young man of many interests--these included pinball, photography, Drama club girls, and the collected works of Rush. So we were a good match, Noel and I. When I learned how to use a 35 mm camera, Noel was one of my first subjects. he posed playing his electric guitar, sans electricity, in my back yard. In the first series, he wore a kimono, then he took off his shirt, and put on a Navy Admiral's hat, just like Jimmy Page would have done. That was Noel, and I as in thrall enough to photograph the whole thing sans embarrassment.

Thirty years later, just after he found and Friended me, Noel started leaving comments on this blog, and he tried to instant message me a couple of times. But I wasn't ready to get into the way-back machine.

I did read some of his Status Updates, and did look at his flickR page and some of his beautiful night photography of abandoned gas stations and factories.

A couple of weeks ago, after the House passed the health care bill, Noel posted several links to articles about it, including a now infamous piece by the conservative writer David Frum. It was an interesting piece, and Noel's Facebook comments on it were interesting too: smart, measured, funny. Then another acquaintance of his, guy who would probably call himself a "fiscal conservative," jumped into the thread and ranted for many paragraphs about how health care reform was going to turn us all into Stalin-hugging Martians, etc. etc. And Noel just went off on the guy--told him 'Your ideas suck, you're not my friend, and I barely remember you from Lanier Senior High School.'

It was a pretty raw Facebook moment.

So the other night when I got home from work, somehow I felt like reaching out to my old friend. A few minutes later, there we were, face-to-face again after thirty years. Same nose, same face, older of course, but I sensed that with a little prodding, he might be ready to make a Monty Python joke. Or at least laugh if I made one. And he was wearing a t-shirt that read, 'The Man The Myth The Legend.'

He was sitting in a study or a home office with shelving behind him, but other than that, I don't know where he was. Guess that's the nature of the Skype cold call.

And what do you say to a metalhead you haven't seen since high school?

Actually we didn't talk about Zeppelin or Uriah Heep at all. We tried to catch up. Having read Euro Like Me, and also looked at my flickR page, Noel knew a little bit of my story. He said something like, 'So you've had an interesting life...?' But from everything he told me, his life has been pretty lively too. Suffice to say, he's had triumphs and tragedies, and he's survived with an ability to reflect upon both.

It was really great to see him again. He's the same guy I always liked, way back when.

I feel like a wide-eyed farmboy saying this but, by golly, the world is an amazing place these days. Amazing and weird. It’s bizarre to try to telescope your life to someone else, to summarize thirty years--the adventures and the tears—into a short, um, video-graphic(?) conversation. But we did it, sort of.

Maybe Facebook and Skype and this sort of virtual contact really just confirms that one never really loses friends. They’re always with you—in your mind or on your screen.

Now I want to do it with someone else. Is that wrong?


Tricia Mitchell said...

I love Facebook. I have moved around a lot, and hooking up with all of these folks from long ago has given me the most amazing sense that my life is one piece again. Kids growing up today will never know what it is like to lose touch with a friend.

pat said...

Yeah, and that's the weird part--that kids won't even know what we've come to see as natural: that we lose touch.
And then there's all those people who want to leave a life behind, shed their skin, and move on. Hey, isn't that capitalism?

Ed Ward said...

But you also lose touch with these people you've found again. There's often not much to keep things going after the first couple of encounters. In my case -- and I bet in yours -- the big stumbling-block is Europe. They've never been here, don't know what it's like, and the subtle changes we've taken for granted are too big for them to comprehend. We can't talk about TV shows, aren't interested in the celeb du jour, and, well, what else is there to talk about?

Not everyone is like that. I've reconnected with some fine folks. But mostly the reconnects don't go too deep.

Megan said...

It makes me wonder what FB will become for the younger generations. For me: it's all about regaining and maintaining a casual connection with people I would otherwise have lost touch with completely.

I too poo-pooed it in the beginning and am a total convert now.

pat said...

Welcome, Megan.I don't even know if I poo pooed it in the beginning--the idea of Facebook struck me as completely odd and I thought, 'What's this for?' Now it's too late--I'm lost in it.
And yes, I see what you're saying, Ed. You may be right. People do in fact move on and change. maybe we don't even know how much we've changed, until we meet someone from the past.

Kim in the Cove said...

On one hand, Facebook is like a virtual family- or class-reunion. It allows us to answer those questions (Who did you marry? What do you do? Do you have children?) without completely re-engaging our lives with people we may or may not have known well a very long time ago.

On the flip side, it can be a component of engaging in a real relationship. I regularly wish I'd had email + social media during the years I lived in Europe. It sure would have beat writing letters and paying $4/minute for phone calls.