Opinion » Letter From The Editor

New Year’s Notebook

Making connections online can lead to good things “in real life.”

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Over the holiday break, my family and I watched a lot movies on television. Well, sometimes, I watched; other times, I was just in the room reading or scanning the internet on my laptop.

This was the case when my wife was watching The Notebook, though I did watch whenever Rachel McAdams was on-screen. (Wowzah.) It's a weepy love story that follows a couple from first infatuation to old age and death. One of the big plot twists is that the mother of the young heroine intercepts 365 letters (one a day, for a year) from her daughter's would-be suitor in an attempt to stop their affair.

It made me think about how ludicrous such a plot device would be today. The young lovers would have exchanged 365 texts in the first week of their separation. Their Facebook friends would know all the details. There would be romantic Instagram pictures of the places they'd been.

A mother has no power over two 20-somethings' ability to communicate with each other in 2015. We are all — or most of us, anyway — part of the human hive now.

Nearly every day, I wish a happy birthday to someone, sometimes to a person I haven't seen in years. It's not because I'm a thoughtful, conscientious friend to hundreds of people; it's because Facebook helpfully reminds me whose birthday it is each morning. This, I think, is a good thing. Sure, some of the birthday wishes are somewhat pro forma, but who doesn't like to be remembered on their birthday? It's an easy way to be kind.

Social media pulls us together in odd and sometimes delightful ways. I was sitting at a club bar listening to music a couple weeks ago, and I realized the fellow next to me was a Facebook friend I'd never really met in person. We have lots of mutual friends, and I enjoy his wit on Twitter and Facebook, and we'd exchanged pleasantries online. I may have even wished him happy birthday. Who knows?

"How's it going, Dave?" I said.

"Hey, great, Bruce. How are you?" he replied, not missing a beat. Instant recognition, and an ensuing conversation that flowed as smoothly as beer into a glass. At some level, we already knew each other, though not "in real life." This, too, is a good thing, I think.

As a new year begins, I find myself hopeful — perhaps naively so — that these sorts of social connections will help us bridge our differences — in age, race, gender, politics. Becoming social media "friends" is the new version of exchanging business cards, except we have the opportunity to continue to communicate, to read each others' opinions, to see who has a sense of humor, to learn who has an off-putting ego, to find out who's a sucker for foolish memes, who's an undiscovered writer.

Sometimes, "real life" is what you make it. As is a new year. Onward.

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