The digital age has enabled us to stay connected with people much easier, or being able to re-connect with someone from your past. In the dark ages (pre-digital), if you had a friend that moved away (especially as a kid) you probably never saw them again. You might get a letter or two, but after a while your life moved on and they began a new one. In grade school I had a best friend and we swore we would always be friends. One summer I went away to camp and when I returned found out his family had moved out of town. That was it. Friendship over. The comet has left the solar system.
Today, if someone you know moves away, or changes jobs, or if you are a kid and make a friend at camp, you can still make instant contact with that person anytime. You can stay in the orbits of each other’s lives, and thanks to social media can passively keep track of each other, wish each other happy birthdays, hook up at a concert, etc. Basically, still be a part of the other person and their life.
Facebook is the great contributor to this new phenomenon. Today, you don’t have to wonder about that old high-school friend and how they turned out. You can check if the girl you had a crush on in 10th grade is still hot, or if the jock who bullied you got fat and now drives a truck. Thanks to Facebook, you can be “friends” with people that you grew up with that you never thought you would see again. And the irony of it now is that most of the people who didn’t like you or vice-versa, are actually pretty nice to be friends with. You share stories online, comment on each other’s family pictures, wish each other happy birthday, etc., something that would have been unheard of when you were growing up.
Some mysteries have been solved, thanks to Facebook and other forms of communication in our digital age. I may not actually SEE the people I grew up with, but we are now back within each other’s orbits and it has helped complete our lives. Perhaps we will get together again, and actually witness in person how we all turned out. Or maybe we will keep our distance, continuing with our current lives, content in the knowledge that not only did we turn out ok, but everyone else did as well.
It’s ok to look back, but don’t stare. The past is always back there, keeping a step or two behind.
Lately I have been reading a bit about the Grateful Dead final Fare Thee Well performances this summer in the Bay area and Chicago’s Soldier Field. Rather than continue to fade away, they are ending with the remaining four members and help from some great friends.
I remember the first time I truly listened to their music and finally became a fan. It was the fall of 1977, my freshman year at college, and I was partying with another guy down the hall and he played side four of their Skulls and Roses (informal name) album. Warf Rat is first, which I thought was pretty cool, but then comes the Not Fade Away/Going Down The Road combo with the jam in the middle. I was blown away. I had never before heard such intricate guitar interplay and call and response work between Garcia and Weir, and this converted me from a casual to a real fan of their music.
Thinking back to my high school and college days, it was easy to find other music geeks like myself just by keeping your ears open. The size of your record (or tape) collection did matter in those days. When you went into someone’s dorm room or apartment, you would immediately know if they were like you or not based on the number of albums they had. You could search through someone’s collection and talk about different groups, liner notes, band evolutions, etc, because it was easy to find a common ground of communication. And, instead of doing five other things at once, we actually sat down together and LISTENED to music without doing anything else.
Enter the digital age, and now everyone has a better music collection than the one I carefully and painstakingly cultivated and built over 40 years of listening to all kinds of amazing (and sometimes horrible) music. The playing field is level now. My music collection is no longer a badge of honor. The good news is that you can find pretty much any selection of music ever made with a few clicks of a mouse or a few swipes on a phone. The bad news is that we have lost a way of identifying ourselves by the music we listen to, and separating the music lovers from the casual listeners. We have no way of recognizing one another because we all share the same generic easy to find music collection. We cannot flip through a collection and instantly bond with the guy who lives down the hall from us.
The good news is that it is easy to find and discover new music. The bad news is we have taken people out of the equation. Sure, we can all write online reviews, and we can click to find “if you liked band x, check out band y” recommendations. But who doesn’t remember the joy of telling a new friend “hey, check this out” while you put another record on the turntable or a tape in the player, and the two of you immediately bonded over the thrill of a musical introduction.
I am not sure which time of music collection and listening was better. Sure, it is easy now, and connecting with others is still possible, but I think it is more sterile. It is online, through screen names and user names, etc, and rarely do we ever meet in real life, and when we do those meetings are awkwardly uncomfortable as some people want to retreat back behind the safety of their keyboards and put their earbuds back on. Consuming music has always been a central part of my being, and helped shape me to who I am today. I very much enjoy the ability to quickly find music to listen to, and the portability of it is beyond the wildest dreams of anyone from 20 or 30 years ago, but I miss the old social aspect and personal touch of listening to and finding new music. It may be easier to find and listen to music today, and easier to socially connect, but are these connections real or are they an illusion. Time will tell.
In the meantime, love live rock.
On a Sunday night, around 6:45, the mini-van, driven by a lone adult woman, pulls into a space of the diner parking lot. After a few minutes I realize she has not exited her vehicle and is just quietly reading in the van. Is she waiting for her dining companion so she doesn’t have to enter the diner alone, or is it something else entirely?
Just before 7 another vehicle, driven by a man, parks right next to the mini-van. The man does not exit the car or even look at the woman. Instead, a small boy about 10 years old gets out carrying a backpack, closes the car door and enters the mini-van, which promptly pulls out of the parking space, making a quick left turn out of the diner parking lot. The man sits in his car for a moment, checks his phone, then puts his car back in gear, and makes a right hand turn out of the lot.
I had just witnessed the Sunday evening end of visiting weekend transfer of a child from one divorced parent to another. I started to ponder about how many times on a Sunday evening this event must occur, and how for the most part I have been totally oblivious to it. As a happily married man of almost 30 years with two children, I have no first-hand experience with this part of our culture, and only a passing knowledge about. Sure, I know it occurs, but I have never done it (thankfully), none of my friends do it (thankfully), and I have only occasionally seen it.
After watching the exchange, I was struck that the parents never looked at one another during the transfer. I can only imagine how bitter and complete their divorce is that they cannot even say a few polite words to the other. I started thinking about how they even communicate to each other, since they are both responsible for the child in some way. Do they just text each other about arrangements, or do they only communicate through another party or a lawyer. A 10 year old kid must have a busy life, how do these parents share that life if they cannot communicate, even during a weekend transfer? For the sake of their child, I hope these parents can one day set aside their bitterness and share in the joys that await them in the years to come; birthday parties, proms, graduations, college, etc.
I also starting thinking about how our culture has many sub-cultures that I have little or no awareness about, or I am no longer a part of. Divorced parents, single parents, mixed race parents, parents that work different shifts, ultra-religious families, families of the disabled, families of the terminally ill, young adults just out of college, wrestling families, swim families, dance families, cheer families, etc. The list of sub-cultures (mini-cultures if you want) within our own society is endless, and unless you are a part of one you usually don’t think about them.
These sub-cultures or sub-groups fit into other parts of our life as well. The brand of car you own, the type of music you listen to, whether or not you own a mac or a PC, do you watch MSNBC or FOX news, are you a republican or democrat, conservative or liberal or somewhere down the middle do you like Springsteen or (god forbid) Bon Jovi. Each of us is part of the greater culture of our society, and at the same time we are all parts of sub-cultures that make us who we are. Being able to span these sub-cultures on a daily basis is one of the things that make our society thrive, and for that I am grateful. I’m just glad I’m not forced into being part of a group I wouldn’t enjoy.