The American Civil War began a fundamental, basic change in the fabric of not only American society but of interpersonal relationships. Until that time, the vast majority of people never traveled more than 20 miles from their homes in their entire lives. The average person's total social existence was built upon the rock of family, friends, and neighbors. The Civil war created widening cracks in this foundation when it uprooted young men from the soil of the past. Taken from their farms and villages and transported to places within their own country they'd never been or even knew existed. This trend was vastly accelerated with America’s entry into WWI, and was perfectly summed up in the popular song, "How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?"
Following WWI, ages-long close-knit bonds between family, friends, and life-long neighbors crumbled rapidly as entire populations moved and shifted and blended.
Family remains the rock upon most people's lives are built, but as distance separated many family members, nearby friends became substitutes for far-off family. But the more mobile our society became, friends, too, like family, began to move away. Face-to-face meetings with friends were slowly replaced, as technology welled up to swallow us all, by the internet, which opened the door to the entire world. In cyberspace, there is no concept of distance. People who normally would never have even become acquaintances—probably never even known of each other's existence—became a new kind of friend: cyber friends who still probably would never meet face to face.
And as technology continues to rob us of our traditional connections to other people, as families and close-knit circles of friends break up into small pieces and scatter around the country and the globe, we tend to rely more on cyber friends. And as age and distance begin to take away our traditional friends and family, cyber friends become a larger part of our social structure.
I've found this particularly true for myself, and on all levels. Much of it has to do with the simple fact of my growing older. Family members and friends die; our face-to-face social contacts tend to dwindle. It's part of being a young adult to cultivate many close face-to-face friends, resulting in an active social life surrounded by people you can—and often do—reach out and touch. I am blessed that I still have a number of friends who date from my childhood, college, and young adult years. But most of them are scattered, now, and we use cyberspace to substitute for face-to-face meetings.
One of the most important and most overlooked casualties of the loss face-to-face contact with family and friends is the loss of physical contact. The emotional/psychological power of simple physical contact—a handshake, a hug, a casual pat on the back or arm around the shoulder—is a too-often-overlooked yet major casualty of our societal diaspora.
For me, right now, in Chicago, my face-to-face social network consists of my best friend, Gary, who I see almost every day, my friend Diane from my earliest days in Chicago, and Sandra, a woman with whom I worked after my return. I have a few people I think of more as friendly acquaintances than true, soul-deep friends, but it is a far different world, on a personal social level, from my 20s and 30s.
I find myself more and more reliant on my cyber friends for a sense of being connected with the world, and for the validation that face-to-face friends normally supply. I quite probably, in fact, have a much wider circle of cyber-friends than I ever had of face-to-face friends. I sincerely enjoy our exchanges (and their encouragement and support). I have been lucky enough to actually meet several of them, either on their visits to Chicago or mine to New York, and now count them as both cyber and face-to-face friends. And I am quite sure that, had we the chance to meet face to face, any number of my current cyber-friends could/would easily become friends in the traditional sense.
So, as in all things in life, it is a matter of trade-offs. The world continues to change, and there is nothing we can do to bring the past back, other than in our memories. Would I give anything to be 28 again and to spend an evening with my mom and dad and aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck and my cousins, or with friends Norm and Tom and Franklin and Ray and Ace and the other wonderful people who were such an important part of my life at the time? Of course. But I am also truly grateful for the cyber friendship of so many wonderful people I've met on line through my books and blogs.
Face-to-face is great: mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart can be just as good. So let this blog be a form of thank you to all my friends, face-to-face and cyber. And there is always room for more. A cyber-hug to you all.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).