I just got off the phone with an old friend I haven’t talked with for probably 40 years. I still hear my friend from then in his voice. The call came to my phone, but I really had no idea what the actual connection was (turns out it came through Facebook Messenger).
Old ties are important, and relatively rare in American culture. Unlike previous generations, we move around too much. My kids are scattered from Washington state to Florida. We don’t even talk to the one who lives in the next county very often. An article in The Atlantic last year examined this phenomenon. As they noted, ties in America have long been looser than in other parts of the world, but modern mobility (both the “move across the country” kind and the “constantly moving throughout the day” kind) exacerbates that.
Friendships over social media do not substitute, but social media provides a means of maintaining stronger ties in a mobile age. Nothing replaces face-to-face, but I’d rather have a mediated connection than no connection.
Which brings me back to that conversation with my old friend. In a way, it doesn’t matter what we talked about. It’s the connection that mattered. His wife recently died following an accident, and while he has family and friends in Southeast Asia where he now lives, the outpouring of support from folks “back home” via Facebook seemed useful and important to him.
When I was in high school, I had a friend in Japan. We talked a couple of times via long-distance telephone, but not for long, and not more, because it was prohibitively expensive. As I recall, it cost something like $1.10 per minute. Taking inflation into account, that would be the equivalent of $5.42 per minute in today’s dollars. Today, we didn’t even have to think about that–the connection via Facebook was free.
Who could you reach out to today? We’ve never been more scattered, and yet, we’ve never been more connected. It’s not the technology that separates us; it’s us. We can fix that. It just takes a conscious effort.