. . . Friday March 20, 2009

Going it Alone

There are endless articles about how Facebook (and its relatives) are going to change (usually for ill) the way human psychology and experience works. I did, however, find the piece, The Way We Live Now – Growing Up on Facebook by Peggy Orenstein to be quite interesting

Six of my nieces will head off to college over the next several years. Some have been Facebooking since middle school. Even as they leave home, then, they will hang onto that “home” button. That’s hard for me to imagine. As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity.

When I first moved to New York, just after college, the city was in the middle of a protracted phone strike. There were no new lines going in, so I had to drop quarters in the public phone (my ear nearly sprouts fungus at the thought of it now) on a corner near Spring and Sixth. So I wasn’t making many calls. I didn’t really know anyone in the town. I spent many days and nights just walking the city. New York itself was my best friend. I was lonely and alone (in the ‘there’s probably a novel in this friggin head’ sense) and I was whatever dude (except getting-laid-dude) I wanted to be at that moment – although every few days I’d inevitably return to being the same Jewish guy downing a bagel and a quart or so of Gus’ pickles.

When I moved to Cambridge for grad school, again, I knew no one. I remember waiting for the cable guy to come so I could turn on CNN and see some familiar faces (Bernard Shaw, I miss you bro).

Today, those experiences would be so much different.

9:25 – At SFO, plane is late.

2:50pm – Just arrived. Anyone know the best cab company?

3:50pm – Crazy cab ride. Are there really four bridges between JFK and Soho?

5:50pm – Oh shit, these pickles really are good (though it surprises me that Gus sticks his bare hand in the barrel). Photos coming soon.

11:50pm – Just getting back from a great meetup with people just like us. This city feels like home already.

Do young Facebookers today relate at all to these Springsteen lyrics?

When you’re alone you’re alone
When you’re alone you’re alone
When you’re alone you’re alone
When you’re alone you ain’t nothing but alone

More importantly, can they, iPhone and Blackberry (and by extension, their entire social group) in their back pockets, have possibly felt these Springsteen lyrics?

When I’m out in the street
I walk the way I wanna walk
When I’m out in the street
I talk the way I wanna talk

It’s not just the connectivity. It’s the trail of photos and text that accompanies every event. John McEnroe often says that he’ll never watch the video of his historic 1980 Wimbledon final against Bjorn Borg. He wants to own his memories of the event instead of having his memory altered or even replaced by the video. He wants to remember the experience, not watching the experience. Today, I look at so many digital photos (including right after the actual experience) with my son, I’m not sure if he remembers the magical synergy of getting pesto on his already green windbreaker or just looking at the photos from that lunch at Marin Joe’s.

Does the new, new thing mean that the transition from childhood to adulthood is obliterated? Nah. But there is something different. I could easily debate either side, different good or different terrible. But it’s definitely different.

Todays kids could probably reproduce my ‘moving to New York all alone’ feeling by just stepping a few feet out of their WiFi and cell phone coverage area. Even if they could still physically see their friends back in the land of connectivity, the experience would likely be unnerving enough to raise the eyebrows a bit.

Someday I hope to SMS with my kids about this.

Concentration is important!