Friday, June 13, 2008

Lifelong Friendships, Thanks To The Internet

This is a post I made on January 26, 2008 in my other blog, which is now only business-related entries. So I'm moving this post here to my personal blog.

This post has very little to do with internet income, other than the fact that marketers always need to keep their eye on sociological trends.

As we go through our day-to-day business, we see the world gradually changing. But if you step back from the moment and look at the big picture, the change is startlingly rapid. The loss of a dear friend has a way of making a person think about things like that. My last post tells the story of my best friend all through my young adult years. Patti passed away unexpectedly this week.

One of the things that’s been on my mind is how sad it is that, when she moved out of the area about fifteen years ago, the closeness of our friendship was pretty much lost. I don’t mean that we ceased to care about each other, but it was different. I could no longer tell you what she fixed for dinner last night (and where she bought the ingredients and whether or not they were on sale). I no longer knew which neighbors she was currently fighting with (and wouldn’t have known the people anyway — it’s so much more satisfying to talk about people you’ve both known since childhood).

Yes, it’s only been a bit over fifteen years since she left — a mere heartbeat in the grand scheme of things. But look how the world has changed since then! I doubt if young people today can fully grasp what it meant back then to see your best friend (or your children, or whoever) drive off for parts unknown, because today it just doesn’t mean the same thing. Patti and I both knew, as we said our tearful goodbyes, that although we’d always be friends the mutually supportive, closely connected part of our friendship was finished.

We sent letters back and forth. We’d send pictures of the milestones in our children’s and our own lives. When we could afford it, we’d splurge on a long-distance call (thirty minutes or so, max — always with our eyes on the old clock). None of that compares with the two-hour phone calls we used to enjoy, the daily contact sharing all the little mundane things that make up a person’s life.

So we gradually lost touch, went our separate ways. That was pretty normal. Nobody really expected to maintain a close friendship over a distance. That’s why parents would bribe their children to choose a college close to home, why some people would turn down a good job that would take them away from their circle of friends, why parents would be opposed to their child forming friendships with “outsiders”. (”What if they got married and he took her away and I’d never get to see her anymore?!”)

Now, let’s come back to the present — a mere fifteen years later. Our world is very different. If Patti and I had only had the resources available now, I believe the old mutual support system would still be intact. We would have Skype and talk whenever we wanted. When not talking, we’d instant message. We’d send real time photos to each other over our cell phones. We’d have FaceBook, Flickr, Flixter, Twitter, MySpace … well, you get my drift. (Sure, we could have been doing those things for the last few years. Now I wish we had. But, in fact, our close connection had fizzled out ten years ago; a new one needed to be forged. I was all enthused about doing that, but I waited too long.)

My point here is that the ability we now have to relate over distance is a really fundamental change in the very fabric of our society. It’s not just that we can do these things that we couldn’t before. It changes how we look at our world. Some of the very large motivators of our actions are not that big anymore.

How will this show up in changes to our society in years to come? I’m sure there will be effects I can’t even predict. One thing I expect to see is that life-long friendships, which were once common but more rare now due to the mobility of our society, will once again be the norm. Stronger inter-personal bonds ought to make for a better society. I really wonder what all this will mean in our future. What changes will we see in ten years that can be directly attributed to this trend? And what about a hundred years?

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