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My wife and I have been married for thirty years . . . today! This is a very good thing.
At this point in our lives, we have a daily routine that works well for us. After a relaxed meal together in the evening, she goes up the stairs to her office/den where she watches HGTV and other apparently fascinating TV shows. I go downstairs to my office/den and devote myself almost exclusively to visiting my favorite websites, preparing to teach classes or learn something for myself, with an occasional break to watch some favorite movie from 20 to 30 years ago.
It’s all about being connected. We are content to simply be “together”, because we know where the other one is, and we both derive a sense of stability from that.
I am often asked, usually by someone who is not familiar with social networking online, why I spend time “playing” with it. Depending on my mood, I might dismiss the Luddite or engage in a spirited attempt to convert them to the online life.
Some of us use networking media to do our jobs. While the business application might be to drive your marketing efforts, create new customers or establish a business relationship with a vendor or client, the result is connecting and reconnecting with people. This is the real power of social networking: connections. With our lives being lived on a global scale as never before, the ability to easily stay in touch with those who have touched us is essential.
As examples, here are a few vignettes from my own experiences reconnecting with others who were and are again part of my life.
Paul Svenson and I met while I worked at the National Benevolent Association (now Disciples Benevolent Services). Paul is a gifted musician who excels at working with large groups and specializes in church and religious events. We used him to create musical experiences during employee conferences as a much-needed counterpoint to the mundane business we were often conducting. Now I enjoy Paul’s regular status updates on Facebook where he always names the joy he feels in the days of his life – even making breakfast for his wife.
Tabitha Knerr and Vy Nguyen are two intelligent and energetic young Disciples who I was fortunate enough to meet while both were moving through their educational process in St. Louis. With my background in higher education, I know that students come into our world and they usually move right on through to the rest of their lives. It is particularly gratifying to me now to know where and what these two are doing as they move into ministry with our denomination.
I have been a member of three very different Disciples congregations and was fortunate enough to be ministered by three totally different, but equally nurturing pastors. I consider each of these spiritual mentors and their spouses as a blessing and as truly special people in my life. As life often goes, either we or the minister has moved away and time goes by. You have a maybe vague idea where someone probably is. You receive the occasional Christmas card or see a familiar name in Disciples World. Then you join Facebook and there they are: Dann and Debbie Masden; George and Lori Richardson; Tim and Kathy Carson, as close as my computer any time I need to check in on them.
While working at NBA, I met many fine and wonderful people around the country with whom I shared a commitment to our mission and our operation. As most of us moved on to new chapters in our lives, an email list was created for those who were still at NBA or had been associated with NBA to maintain this vibrant connection. That worked well for a while, but like many things that depend on one or two people to generate, eventually the list lost its robustness. This is the great weakness of “push” lists, where information emanates outward from a source. Today, I maintain those great connections through various online sites and we all generate content that keeps us aware of each other’s lives. It’s not dependent on any one person or group.
Beyond these examples, there are many others: old friends from grade school, high school, and colleges, colleagues from every job I’ve ever had, church friends, children of old friends, business contacts, and interesting people from various sources across the entire globe, not to forget a great number of Australian relatives, most of whom I have never met face-to-face.
I have to smile when I remember beginning a pen pal relationship with one cousin when we were both teenagers long ago. From writing letters, we graduated to the occasional e-mail and even had a family website, mostly used for posting pictures, for a while. It has only been since beginning to connect online that I am finally getting to know all the generations of my mother’s family in that far-off place.
Yes, the Internet reaches beyond geography. I reconnected with one former colleague from a job in Texas during the late 1980’s. Today she is in Belgium married to a soldier with five lovely red-headed children. I would not have bumped into her at the neighborhood grocery store . . . ever.
I maintain my contacts through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and a few other specialized networking sites. These are large sites with many participants, but there are other great networking sites that work well. My connections sometimes duplicate, with virtual links to another person on several difference websites. For those who make some attempt to keep our business and social lives separate, this is important. Facebook is like my virtual neighborhood where friends, family, and colleagues mix in a crazy quilt pattern and the content is varied and much more informal. LinkedIn is where I go to work. Twitter is where I practice brevity and clarity, given the 140-character limit to one’s posts.
In all places, I remember that my words and thoughts are usually public.
I have remarked in other venues about a recurring theme in our lives where we meet people and then reconnect at a later time in our lives. Our lives “weave, bob, and intersect with others, time and time again.” Social media applications have the power to do this very effectively on a global scale. The reality is often that, after a brief flurry of “catching up”, we simply continue to be connected into the future.
That’s okay . . . it’s not about knowing every trivial little detail of someone else’s life. It’s about knowing when they are okay, knowing when they are not okay, and being able to reach out to people I care about. I know my wife is upstairs and I know those who are not near physically are right out there on the Net.
That comforts me.
John E. Smith lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is a member of Webster Groves Christian Church. He welcomes invitations to connect on both LinkedIn and Facebook (free registration on both sites is required to connect). His blog is called A Matter of Strategy and you can follow his sporadic tweets as @JohnESmith on Twitter.