I didn’t think turning 55 last month would be such a big deal, having already dealt with those milestone birthdays of 40 and 50. Everyone knows (and pollsters bear this out) that Boomers always undercount their age by 7-10 years in any event. I may be 55, but I believe I’m really only 45. Don’t believe me? Just ask any Baby Boomer how old he/she feels and you’ll soon get the sense that we’re all this way (i.e., delusional).
But this year has been very different and a little – well – just different. And it is all because of Facebook.
First, a little back story. I was not an early adopter for Social Media, as I had a wife, two teenagers, a demanding job, a guitar and mandolin sitting in the corner and other interests to fill my days. But part of my job was to provide vision and direction to all parts of our online communications efforts at work. It soon became clear that it was going to be difficult to do that job well if I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, blogs and the like. So I took the steps that had already been taken by many of my friends and colleagues: I had the web staff at work set me up on Facebook and I had both my children refuse to “friend” me. I was off to a great start! (More to Come…the DJB Blog was another outcome of my immersion in all things online, but that’s another story.)
Amazingly a group of 25-35 year old staff members at work did “friend” me on Facebook however and they were the ones who really showed me the power, reach and possibilities of this wonderful tool. I was suddenly “welcomed” (if that’s the right word to use for people allowing their boss to see their status updates) into an amazing set of conversations about everything from what’s for dinner tonight; gym habits; Lady Gaga’s gig with Elton John at the Grammys; Snowpocalypse; and the Caps chances to win the Stanley Cup to why old communities really are the most sustainable places on the planet; how we can respond to the devastation in Haiti; and life’s rhythms of births, new children, college searches, aging parents, and death.
Now to the real reason for this post. I haven’t lived in my hometown since I was 22. Many family members still live there, so I do go home regularly and see a small group of friends from my high school and college days – friends like Gary and Libby Green who are close to my sister and brother-in-law. Van West, who I’ve known since his Mom was my 7th grade math teacher, is another friend I’ve stayed connected with due to personal as well as professional reasons. Van is the very able director of Middle Tennessee’s Center for Historic Preservation. But the more typical story is that I’ve lost connections with many friends who use to be very close.
And that’s where the 55th birthday comes in.
For some reason, as my classmates and I have faced the double nickles birthday (or the two-handed birthday as one of them called it), we’ve reconnected across all sorts of time zones and situations. Someone set up a Facebook page for our high schools (we were the first graduating classes after the school system split up our Central High) and people started asking questions such as “Do you know where so-and-so is now?” The Facebook group scheduled a “Hipwreck” dance in Murfreesboro for those who live nearby. “Friend” requests have been coming from people I haven’t thought of – much less seen – in 25 years. (They probably are thinking the same thing about me.) I’ve heard from dozens of classmates from my high school days in Tennessee. One lived in Knoxville and through Facebook I was able to connect her with my colleague who is the charismatic director of Knox Heritage. I now am very jealous when they tell me through Facebook they are going to attend the “Biscuit Festival” or “Big Ears” in downtown Knoxville. Another has lived here in the Washington area since the 1980s but we never connected until Facebook came along. We remedied that yesterday when Crouse and I had lunch to catch up on life and memories. It seems like every other one of my birthday reminders on Facebook these days is for a former classmate facing 55. (Happy Birthday tomorrow, Mary.) Another dear friend who I had really regretted losing touch with turned up on Facebook yesterday as well. We messaged back and forth and discovered that we now find ourselves in the same state after lives lived all across the country.
Having people look at your Facebook profile to ascertain what type of life you’ve lived for the past 30 years is another part of the experience that makes this…well, different. Do they check out your photos and go, “Gee, it’s too bad David’s let himself go!” or do they say, “Hey, he held up pretty well!” (One very kind and gentle friend said, “You have the same smile you did as a teenager.”) My friends are probably saying, “David’s listening to the same music he was 30 years ago – doesn’t he ever change?” (And it isn’t classic rock! I will say that when I took Andrew to a Nickel Creek concert at the Kennedy Center I told him he should be impressed that I was among the oldest audience members there, by a factor of about 20 years.) Your political leanings can come through in your Facebook profile – either directly or in a more subtle way. Given my Tennessee roots, my classmates are more conservative than my colleagues at work, but I still see posts fighting homophobia and supporting health care reform. Stories of marriages and relationships can also make their way into the Facebook profile, if one is so inclined, and so yesterday I “married” Candice on Facebook – 28 years after the fact – just so friends could find out more about her if they wished. Of course, my children still refuse to “friend” me so my 17-year-old twins will just have to remain a mystery.
It has been wonderful to reconnect and part of the joy has been the process of discovery (and rediscovery). I wrote a recent blog/Facebook post on my boy scout camping trips at Rugby, Tennessee (which were also my first experiences in historic preservation). Lo and behold I heard back from my old scout master, the assistant scout master (and father of my best friend from high school), and the pastor of the church who sponsored our troop. What memories! I think about how different it will be for Andrew and Claire as they have the means to stay connected to their friends in ways that we couldn’t imagine back in 1973 when facing high school graduation. There’s a sense of regret that we didn’t have Facebook then, but my twins won’t have as many opportunities to get a “friend” request one day and say, “WOW, I never thought I’d make this connection again!”
If you are reading this and are a classmate from 1973, write a comment on the blog or send me a “friend” request on Facebook. 55 be damned – we’re really only 45. So while we’ve got plenty of time left, perhaps we should catch up!
More to come…