Wednesday, September 07, 2011

"How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm...."

The American Civil War began a fundamental, basic change in the fabric of not only American society but of our 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 foundation 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 they'd never been or even knew existed began a trend which continues today. (As the popular WWI song so clearly put it, "How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?")

After WWII, 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 more important in our culture, often as a substitute for family. For years, being friends largely depended on being able to get together face to face. But friends, too, like family, began to move away. And then, as technology welled up to swallow us all, along came 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 break up into small pieces and scatter, like traditional friends, around the country and the globe, we tend to rely more on cyber friends. As age begins 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.

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. 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 traditional-type 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 my cyber friends, either on their visits to Chicago or mine to New York, and now count Kage and Eric and John and Joe 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 style.

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 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 is just as good, if not better. 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.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's  Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs--a review of which appears today, 09-07-11 at

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