Age of Reconnecting

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.

1Facebook’s Traffic Growth Leaving Rivals in the Dust
2Facebook Growth by Age: College Age Group is Declining

9 Responses to “Age of Reconnecting”

  1. Eric Says:

    I am not erudite and have not been since receiving a regimen of antibiotics and topical cream two years ago. Yes, there was a brief flare-up in June of ’08, but that’s gone completely into remission.

    I hope that clears everything up.

  2. Anne C. Says:

    Eric is erudite, but he is not a crudite (though he is yummy with dill and sour cream dip).

    I, myself, have just bowed to social pressure and joined Facebook. It really is quite extraordinary!

  3. Vince Says:

    Ooo… footnotes!

    I finally went to a class reunion for the first time this summer as much out of curiosity as anything else. High school for me also wasn’t pleasant – I was geeky, non-athletic, and moved to a new community that, as most small communities are, insular. I did make friends, and there were some fantastic teachers that probably saved my life, as my life at home was hell with an abusive, alcoholic father (my mom did all she could). As I got older, I worked as many hours as possible, and stayed away from home as much as possible.

    I have reconnected with a couple of people, and want to extend those currently tenuous connections. An old girlfriend just found me through my blog, and as we parted on good terms and remained friends for some time until we lost track of each other, this has been a great reconnection.

    When I was younger I did write and receive a lot of letters, especially when I was in the Air Force. But now that’s been replaced by email and phone (for me). I used to IM, but there were only a few that I did this with, and when Heather died I abandoned it. Maybe I’ll start up again.

    I think Eric is dead on – and we members of the UCF are a clear example. Technology, as it historically has, is redefining community. Rather than isolating people more, I think it’s allowing people to connect in ways that have never been possible. We get to define the communities we wish to be a part of without regards to geographic location and, to a much greater extent than in the past, without regard to age or socioeconomic status.

    As for reconnecting with people from my past, there has been some impetus to do this, thus my actually going to a class reunion. What technology has done is make it easier to both reconnect and stay connected. Whether we choose to reconnect is less about the era we live in than about whether or not we have any desire to do so.

  4. MWT Says:

    Heh, a good step forward in the conversation about whether online socializing counts as “real” or not. Of course they’re real, and they always have been.

  5. Michelle K Says:

    Vince, you’re a better human than I are. Even if my class bothered to have a reunion (this year should have been our 20th) I don’t think I’d go. Mostly because either I’ve connected through Facebook with the people I’d like to keep in contact with, or the people I’d like to see again wouldn’t bother to go to a reunion either.

    But I do love that I’m reconnecting to college friends through facebook–it’s much better than the once a year Christmas card. :)

  6. Michelle K Says:

    Crap. That wasn’t what I initially intended to say. I think I need to go to bed.

  7. Eric Says:

    Sleep, Michelle. You’ve had a hard week.

    I have to admit I’m not one for class reunions. The friends I had then that I wanted to keep in touch with, I have.

  8. Jeri Says:

    Eric, I am really glad you got that cleared up. It was getting embarrassing for you in public, wasn’t it?

    Anne, among other things, I’m looking forward to more India pics!

    Vince, I think that technology can isolate, and can connect – it depends on the user. Those that choose an electronic window on the world instead of experiencing real life are probably more isolated as a result.

    MWT, I knew you’d come down firmly in the ‘real’ camp. :)

    Michelle, college was far more comfortable for me socially but I don’t remember many of my friends from there, either. I ski-bummed winter quarter of my junior year (blowing out my knee) and after that I lived off campus and in the city. I think that really disengaged me from college social life.

    And yes, get some sleep. :)

    Class reunions hold little appeal for me. My only interest in going would be if I could come back slim, rich and inordinately professionally successful – a “look who’s cool now thing” – and I’m not. Except professionally successful. And life is too short for that kind of focus, anyway.

  9. MWT Says:

    My high school class (the second one) is like family. 134 of us lived, studied, and graduated together as the first for that school. I go to every reunion.

    My original high school, well there are people I wouldn’t mind seeing from there again but not enough to make me figure out when their reunions are.