On the way back from Florida, we swung through North Carolina and visited some great old friends. Whilst the experience of catching up with people we used to spend significant amounts of (pre-kid) time with was fantastic this little side trip caused me some jarring realizations.
When we lived in this town (Wilson) the height of my cell phone tech was an Erickson T28, which was just a little less cool than the Motorola Startech that was out around the same time. No Facebook, no Flappy Birds and certainly no Google Maps. Even a portable GPS wasn't a low cost commodity at the time. And why did I need it? I could find my way from one side of the city to the other without a problem. Blindfold me and drop me pretty much anywhere and I could find my way home. Not that Wilson was huge but it's spread out enough and I knew it well.
Fast forward 10 years and I find myself arriving in Wilson, in the dark having been guided 600 mind numbing Interstate 95 miles from Florida. As we pulled off the Interstate I recognized road numbers and street names but it had been a while and so did not immediately recognize where I was. This spatial laziness, induced by total reliance on the 4" screen in front of me, dented my otherwise excellent record (and pride) in having a good sense of direction. Granted, new buildings had sprouted up, old ones torn down or repurposed and it was dark but really? I lived there for 6 years. When we were in Holland I drove straight to my childhood home (unaided) and the most advanced mode of transport I had driven there previously was a bycicle when I was 12 years old! Blind reliance on Google Maps turned off my awareness of landmarks and geography that would otherwise have guided to a destination I should be very familiar with.
The second in my face demonstration of technological "development" was the realization of just how much social media isolates us from our friends. Seeing our wonderful old partners in crime again, after having moved away, had kids (both couples) and other significant life changes, made all the Facebook status updates pale in comparison to the visceral experience of spending time together. A Facebook timeline does not and did not make me realize how much I had missed my friends. Indeed, how much I had missed. Sure, I had followed along with the posts on vacations, kids sporting events, exclamations of enjoyable weather or food. But what of the gaps of life inbetween posts? What about the less carefully curated "status updates" we frequently shared over food, wine and beer? When we shared not only our successes but our fears, hopes and wishes (and maybe just a little Rick Springfield). Where did those go when we moved away? Where do they go to now once we've Liked and commented?
Seeing our friends again was a little like coming home. Not necessarily in the physical sense but in the heart and spirit. That's something that social media cannot create, at least not yet. I, like many I have spoken to, attest to the benefits of Facebook for "keeping up" with our friends and family. But I should not forget that it won't replace the dynamic back and forth of live conversation, of immediately seeing the reaction to a joke or a hurt, to sharing in common community with people we love. That's seems easy for me to forget as I scroll though the daily news feed instead of picking up the phone or taking a road trip.