A recently rediscovered childhood friend and neighbor asked me, “Have we finally reached the age where we’re reconnecting with old friends?”
Good question. At forty-something, it’s been a long time since high school and college; they are a blur. With apologies to the few high school friends I am in touch with, it was not a pleasant era for me. I was geeky, socially awkward and very unhappy. I haven’t attended a single reunion because those are memories and times I don’t particularly want to revisit.
In the years since, I’ve held a few jobs and lived in multiple states and countries. I’ve met a lot of interesting people and become close friends with a few. At the same time, I am truly awful at being a pen pal, I didn’t really even try, so we’ve lost contact.
The Internet and its capability for globally connecting people is changing all that.
Erudite blogger Eric mentioned:
“Part of what’s remarkable to me about the internet is how communities now consist of people who share a common interest and not just a common ZIP code. It seems to me that if a lot of this international tech had existed when I was a teenager, I might have been better adjusted: after all, whenever my few friends and I felt maladjusted and lonely, we could have turned to the message boards for RPG gamers or music nerds or general misfits, or maybe even have had Facebook or MySpace pages in which we would have perhaps had thousands or millions of ‘friends.’”
It certainly is true for teens today. My sons have moved – my eldest a couple of times – and have not lost touch with old friends at all. They are still IMing, connected on Facebook, MySpace and game platforms, and calling each other endlessly on free evening and weekend minutes.
According to sociologists, one of the interesting demographic differences between teens and young adults, who grew up immersed in social networking, and older adults is that the the younger group does not differentiate among face-to-face and online friends. The relationships they have with online friends via IM, email, social media networks and other channels are as real, rich and important as relationships with those they go to the movies with on Friday nights.
Just as importantly, it’s becoming true for my generation – and my parents’ generation. Email & IM bring instant gratification. Facebook provides opportunities to track down and reconnect with old friends. Blogs become soapboxes for fascinating people of all ages with opinions, wisdom and the ability to write coherently.
Facebook, in particular, is a fascinating phenomenon. It’s grown from 90 million users in June of 2008 to 150 million in January of 20091 – and the largest growth has been in the atypical demographic sectors – non-US teens (13-17), young (26-34) to middle-age (35-44) professionals and smaller but rapidly growing groups of adult (45-54) and (55-59) professionals2.
Suddenly, our options for connecting to people are no longer limited to, as Eric mentioned, our zip code – or even the current era. We can search for and reconnect with friends from high school, college, past jobs and locations as well as our our current moment. We can also connect with people online from around the world who share common interests and goals – I count among my friends people from across the US, Canada, the UK and Pakistan.
So, to circle back around to the original question: have we reached the (physical) age where we reconnect? I would submit that it’s much larger than an individual choice. We’ve reached an age, an era of reconnecting, facilitated by social media and globalization.