One could certainly debate the pros and cons of social media and its all pervasive impact on life as we know it. There is no question that it can lead to: a seemingly bottomless pit of time wasting, a propensity toward the “over-sharing” of life’s minutia and what amounts to an internet version of unhealthy, addictive behavior. But in my mind it also provides an opportunity for connection that simply did not exist just a few years ago. As someone who is at just the right age to have enough technical know-how to take advantage of what the internet can provide and a clear memory of what life was like before we were all constantly “connected” I can say that social media has provided one benefit that far outweighs its detractions – finding lost friends.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of reconnecting online with the person that I really consider “my first love”. As I was working on my business network site on LinkedIn, his name popped up as someone I might want to connect with – (though how they know that, both puzzles and creeps me out a little bit). Nonetheless, more than thirty years since I would have last seen him, and almost forty years since we were “an item” we connected for a brief but pleasant email interaction. And honestly, it was great! No, I am not still mooning for a “lost love” or wanting any more than this superficial conversation presented, but had it not been for this social media site I would have spent my life never knowing what happened to him. Sure, life would have moved along smoothly without ever knowing, but now I have what can almost be described as a sense of closure.
Several years ago, I was re-united with another old friend from my college years who I had lost track of, when our lives became full with children and families and life activities and the letter writing which had finally been reduced to holiday updates eventually stopped altogether. And for about 2 – 3 years it was great to once again know and connect with this person from whom I always received a great amount of inspiration, laughter and genuine warmth. When he suddenly died of a heart-attack last year, I mourned his passing with the many friends and family who also cherished his life, and was grateful that we had had the opportunity to re-connect again before this most final disconnection. There is no denying the intensity and deep connections that you forge in your younger years and how significantly they can impact your life even if circumstance and priorities separate you over time. Old friends know you in a way that new friends never can – and social media allows you an opportunity to acknowledge their importance.
Sure, I am lucky; my reconnections to my past have mostly been positive ones. I have not stumbled into any frightening, unhealthy stalkers. Aside from some of the minor annoyances of irritating posts on Facebook from people whose, let’s just say “approach,” is at odds with my own, social media has treated me pretty well. I have a greater appreciation for some people than I had, had years ago – and most importantly I have been able to connect with some folks who were and are very important to me. I am not a “collector”, one of those people with a hundreds or thousands of “friends” who they may simply have attended the same high school with, it’s not about the numbers really. Though I check in regularly, I don’t really care for the trivial updates about every aspect of your existence, and I could absolutely live without the constantly forwarded quotes and cute animal photos in favor of more authentic and original material. But a little here and there is just fine.
Most significantly, over five years ago I reconnected with someone who has indeed, changed my life. An old friend, I had known since grammar school, someone I always felt “connected to” despite our lives taking us in different directions. Built on an old stone foundation of mutual respect, fundamental understanding and positive regard we have forged a new and deeper relationship then either of us could have imagined in an age before social media discovery would have allowed. Not everyone is going to find “true love” on Classmates.com, and probably it’s a good idea not to try. It’s not about re-living your glory days, or going back in time. It’s about being able to connect in the here and now, to those people who have moved and shaped who you are today. There are definitely undeniable upsides to being able to connect with the people who really meant something to you over the years, to say “hello”, to share your friendship, to let them know that you are grateful to have had them in your life, and once in a great while to be able to say “I have waited for you all my life – and I didn’t even know it”.