“Don’t look back, you can never look back.” ~ Don Henley
The party was in full swing long before I got there. I had hung back as I so often do; resisting the pressure, the nagging feeling that I was missing something; that I was, perish the thought, out of it.
But, finally, about six months ago, partly out of curiosity but mostly in an attempt to stay current, to fully experience the times in which I live, I gave in. I signed up for Facebook.
I pretty much knew what to expect. I enjoyed, at least initially, the predictable flurry of high-school friends and acquaintances that came out of the woodwork. And, forewarned, I had braced myself for the residual teenage angst that followed. Funny how the popular kids still prevail in middle-age, banded together, all these years later, in chummy little cyber-cliques.
And as someone who never had much success mixing friends (Earth Day 1989, in particular, memorable for all the wrong reasons), I knew entering the world of online social networking meant the end of my heretofore comfortably compartmentalized life.
What has surprised me, though, is the realization that we now live in a world in which it is virtually impossible to leave anyone behind, even when doing so might be the most prudent, and even the healthiest, thing to do.
Gone are the days when friends drifted apart naturally, often without explanation or even acknowledgement. Indeed, we have entered an era in which they very concept of the long-lost friend or the long-lost love has gone the way of the 8-track tape and the rotary dial.
Of course, you can take the overt action of ignoring or even “unfriending” someone. But, thanks to six degrees of separation and the vast, tangled web that is Facebook, you never know when a painful reminder will appear on your computer screen. It’s harder than ever to forget let alone forgive.
Some of this is old news, I know. My group of classmates originally reconnected back in 2002 via an MSN message board. But after an intense flurry of emails and posts, and a couple of real-world reunions, things calmed down considerably. A few friendships had been genuinely rekindled, but most everyone else returned to their real lives, their families and jobs.
But Facebook is different. Maybe it’s the constant status updates, the relentless, real-time musings, the in-your-face minutiae of old friends who, in spite of their accessibility these past few years, had remained safely tucked away in the corner of my consciousness reserved for the past.
As so many of us of a certain age reconnect online, I can’t help but wonder about those who have grown up with social-networking sites. What will it be like to never have the pleasure of reuniting with anyone because you’ve never been able to lose track of them in the first place?
And what about perspective? How will the ability to effortlessly stay in touch with everyone we’ve ever known affect our ability to move forward, to grow emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? How do we learn from the past if we’re never truly able to leave it behind?
I wonder, too, about the creative process. How many artists and writers have found their muse in memory, their inspiration in the hazy, lovely ache of nostalgia?
These are some of the things I find myself struggling with as I start over, alone, in this new place.
It can feel a little daunting: this new terrain, the forging of new friendships, the discovery and evolution of self. It would be easy to rely on comfortable connections, to broadcast the details of my new life and wait for the comments and encouragement to come forth.
The truth is, it’s just not my style. And so I go it alone, without a Greek chorus, without the people of my distant and recent pasts looking over my shoulder. I focus instead on the path ahead, a path I have chosen for the very fact that it will lead me, finally, away from them.