May 14th, 2004


The world sure has changed.

(With a profound statement like that, you know this has nowhere to go but up, eh?)

Think about what you know of life 100 years ago. No cars, airplanes, or TV, and phones weren’t popular yet. The people you knew were your family, for the most part. People in cities knew more people, but you knew a pretty small group of people. You lived where you grew up, for the most part. Extended families under one roof were not uncommon.

With the advent of things that let you travel further faster and things to let you communicate with people a long way away, people started moving all over the country. Instead of needing a “pioneer spirit” or a lack of prospects in your current situation, you could move “just because.” So people moved.

And it changed the way we lived. Relationships changed. Any time technology advanced, relationships changed. And, strangely enough, it was entertainment and leisure that drove the advancement of technology, and technology drove the advancement of leisure. ‘Tis a circle, it is. A vcicious one, even.

It sounds like a cliche, but radio and television changed the American family. It seems simplistic to say, but people who were watching TV or listening to the radio weren’t reading or talking to each other. And as people got used to new forms of entertainment, that entertainment drove them to want more and different entertainment. It doesn’t take a genius to look at the first television shows and compare them to today’s shows and notice there’s a pretty big difference.

It’s tempting to go off on a “what’s wrong with America” tangent, but that’s not where I was headed. I’m talking about relationships.

As people moved away from people they knew and new ways of hearing about the world and about each other came along, they started relating to people differently. Instead of knowing their neighbors and spending time with them, people withdrew. They talked on the phone to people hours away rather than cultivating friendships with those right next door. Rather than gathering in groups to pass news along, people got their news in their own homes from the television and from newspapers that also benefited from the new communication methods.

You know where this is headed, right?

Fast forward a few years.

Enter the Internet. Now it’s so much easier to get info and “meet” people without ever leaving your house. And it’s changed relationships again. It’s given rise to the group we always hear about – those who pretend to be someone else online. But we overlook the other things. I have a friend who’s getting married this summer – to a fellow she met online. Twenty years ago, they would never have found each other.

I myself have friends all over the country now – New Mexico, Wisconsin, Washington, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina – and some international friends – Canada, Luxembourg, maybe Australia and England. These are a mix of keeping up friendships I started “IRL” (that’s “In Real Life” for those who don’t know) and people I’ve “met” online. Some are an interesting mix of the two. One of my online friends is a person I knew in high school but only recently re-caught up with. Another is the younger sister of a friend I’ve had since 9th grade – we knew each other, but we’ve only recently become what you’d call “friends.” And they’ve introduced me to other people. Others are people I’ve met in online “communities.” There again, technology has changed relationships and definitions.

I make no distinction between “online” friends and “IRL” friends. One of my online friends went to Vegas with his wife a few weeks ago. When they got back, he told us in the “community” about his trip. A few days later, I was getting my hair cut when my stylist (yeah, she’s a “stylist” not a “barber”) said something about how she got married in Vegas and I said without pausing to think, “Yeah a friend of mine just got back from Vegas. He really enjoyed himself.”

I’ve talked to a few of my online friends on the phone. I’ve seen one or two of them on webcam. I play golf with some of them online. We talk about our lives and jobs, our joys and pains. We give advice to each other on everything from decorating to taking driver’s tests. I may eventually meet some of them and usher at their weddings. And you’ve already seen how a bunch of them helped me celebrate my birthday.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s easy to look at some of the changes technology has made and be sad for how things have turned out. (I have a friend who says she thinks she would’ve made a good pioneer woman, what with all the working and pie-making that went on.) But technology has made things possible that were never possible before. I know someone who lives in Luxembourg, and I don’t even really know where Luxembourg is! (Of course, also with the help of technology, I could find that out…and I probably will when I’m done here.)

There is a downside, though, to having mostly online friends – you can’t really call them to help you move a desk…

Leave a Reply