Who's your Friend?

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2011

I am a member of several organizations around town, and a few others on a wider scale. I come from the generation before TV when belonging was the entertainment: join a group or a club so you have something to do and somewhere to go. My parents belonged to the Grange, the Moose, a neighborhood club and probably others I can't remember. They were 4-H leaders when we were growing up and Mom was a Den Mother for my brother's cub scouts. As a kid I belonged to Job's Daughters, 4-H, Girl's League and various young people's church groups through the years. I also participated in band and drill team at school and every other group I could find. We got together for parties, caroling during the holidays, good works, meetings, and just about any excuse we could muster that the parents didn't see through. There was no Sponge Bob so we went to a friend's house to play cards or board games or maybe just to help out with some big chore. It was our means of getting to socialize and also getting out of the house.

Today, besides the real groups, I also have a presence on one social network online. (Has the vocabulary changed or what?) I joined because a friend said "I put some pictures online. Why don't you join so you can see them?" and I did, little realizing what I was getting into. I check in a couple of times a day, usually morning and evening, and find out all sorts of things I don't need to know. I don't Friend (I'll use an upper case 'F' to denote those Friends) a lot of people, but I do have my granddaughters as Friends, for better or worse. It is a great way to keep up with the two who are out of state. For the two here in town, sometimes I discover things I would be better off not knowing. Like who is in love with whom (the sixth-grader), and which house for the party (Miss "I'm An Adult Now"). I also know all my Friends' pets' names and their habits, which coffee shack has the best latte, and why so and so didn't go to Anchorage.

Once in awhile, some real news comes forth like the road conditions, or who went back to school or someone ailing who needs some help or comfort. Information I could have learned in a short phone call if someone had dialed the phone instead of turning on the computer. However, in defense of the process, more people get the news faster and easier.

I guess I am missing something. "Social network" to me, and most of my friends, means those you see every day or communicate with regularly in some tangible way (the key word here being "tangible"). It probably includes one's family, some friends from the "old days," new acquaintances, and a few buddies from work, or used-to-be work. People you have something in common with. It doesn't mean an illusory presence somewhere in the ether who is trying to collect more Friends than Justin Bieber. It also means interaction, not passive commentary.

Membership in traditional organizations is waning. Young people don't join clubs or groups that they might have to expend some energy to belong to. It is easier to sit on the couch or at the desk and comment by keyboard on the color of your Friend's new eye-liner -- which you can see because of a picture posted via their phone. Or go shopping and describe the color of the carrots or size of the eggs just because you want to be present online at that moment so your Friends don't forget you. Time spent making inane comments about last night's TV show or Lady Ga-Ga's latest song could be spent volunteering somewhere (heaven forbid!) or even reading a book (arrgh!) but then you might miss something, like Susie Q's latest foray to Walmart.

The time is near when community organizations will cease to be. No one to pick up trash along the highways, or produce Christmas baskets, or supply scholarships. No one to carry on the traditions of the community. The long-standing members are getting burned out, the old members are dying and there are no new members to pick up the ball and run with it. The younger generation has forgotten how to interact on a personal basis; the future generations will never learn because they won't have a role model.

My Grandma was from the time of quilting bees and in her later years young women in her small town, in a flurry of nostalgia, gathered in her living room to learn the old craft. Grandma used to laugh and comment that times hadn't changed as much as we might think, as any group of women getting together always gossiped about men, absent members, their kids and eventually, what's for dinner. The point being that despite the age difference, common interests brought them together and kept them meeting and talking.

In other words, social networking -- the old-fashioned way.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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