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Time Travelling with Facebook


I’m not going to lie…I love Facebook. I am not even going to put in any qualifiers on that statement. I love Facebook.

nodediagramA few years back, I connected with someone on Facebook whom I had gone to school with for a few years but whom I had not really talked to since fourth grade, when I was a new student at that school. It would have been more than 25 years. However, just the act of exchanging a few pleasantries with this person brought back a flood of memories from fourth grade. Memories that had been held back by the dam of time flooded through my brain and reminded me not just of this person, but of the boy I was back then. Facebook didn’t just reconnected me with this other person, it connected 36 year-old me with nine year-old me.

Catching up with old friends since January 22, 2008 (the day I joined Facebook) has been incredible to me.  To see the faces of people I last saw five, 10, 15, 20 years ago has been amazing and to see their faces in the faces of their children is even more incredible.  Hearing about their successes, getting glimpses into their journeys through life and rediscovering who these people of my past are can be moving and humbling at times, especially when old jokes or a familiar phrase surfaces in a context long remove from high school, college or an old job.

Emotions can run deep when scrolling through Facebook. Acquaintances not thought about in years emerge from the cloud bringing with them long lost and buried memories. Old crushes barely spoken to in high school can still trigger, to borrow a line from Dan Fogelberg, “that old familiar pain”. A “best friend” that has been lost to time and geography who returns with the same wisdom, jokes and words seems to erase the guilt and regret of time and geography.

However, as utterly fantastic as all that has been, for me, that connection to who I was in the past is the part of Facebook phenomenon that has stirred the deepest emotions.  With each friend I have connected with, from different times in my life, I have felt like the connection goes beyond that person…With each friend, I feel like I am connecting with some long lost version of myself. Almost as if in a time machine, I get glimpses of who I was reflected in the comments and faces of old friends.

Throughout our lives, we are constantly reinventing ourselves to adapt to our goals or our needs or the environment and people around us. Different people know a different versions of me, and few, if any, know all versions of me.  Some might know the shy, pimple faced boy who simply hoped to blend in with his high school locker.  Some might know the guy that computerized the stat system at the Baltimore Orioles.  Some might know that guy that ran the newspaper in college.  Some know the daddy of two little boys.

It’s not just about me, either. Each set of friends from those different times are like time capsules, each having locked away a piece of who we are. Through old pictures, old jokes and old stories, those pieces are unlocked and we get to travel back in time to get a clearer picture of ourselves. As more is shared, our friends also get to see a more complete version of who we are. I love it when the people from different times in our lives engage in conversations with each other on Facebook. Perhaps it corrupts the memories we have, but perhaps they get a fairer view. W get to see (and laugh at, perhaps) a glimpse of who our current set of friends were in a time before children. We get to learn more about them and the people and events that shaped them. We get to see how college changed that person we knew from high school. We get to see how much someone has not changed in 20 years by the warm and friendly comments their college friends leave on their wall, and that is a good thing. We get to see how children became adults who now have children of their own.

The thing is that we are all a compilation of all the previous versions of ourselves.  We are, at the present moment, the pinnacle of the evolution of ourselves.  Sure, that will be replaced tomorrow, next week or next month, but the evolution is guaranteed to continue. And Facebook connects all those previous versions of ourselves.

Before Facebook, I had this view of who I was at that moment, but as old friends were found and new ones connected, a clearer picture of who I was and how I got here emerges.  In reconnecting with one friend, I am connected to the frightened fourth grader who was starting at a new school on a long gone sunny fall day who happened to share a moment with them.  Reading the words of a friend from college and I can hear their voice echoing in the college newspaper office as we struggle to meet a deadline.  Seeing a picture of a friend with a broad smile…it’s the same smile from a late night wiffle ball game in a warehouse office, just on an older, wiser face, and it is a reflection of my own smile when late night emergencies were about baseball statistics and not a small child with a stomach ache.

Facebook is connecting me to my future self…it is travelling forward in time, as well. It is connecting me to my grown up sons in the future with their own children. My timeline will become their history and a portal to who their father really is. They will see what was important to me now. They will see my friends and what my friends thought of me. They will be connected to so many of the people that helped shape who their daddy is. They will see an unedited version of me and their mom as we happened. Perhaps it will augment their own memories. Perhaps it will fill the gaps in their memories. Perhaps it will just make them laugh. They will get to see and understand how we thought and viewed those moments that they will have their own memories of.

I tend to mostly only post the good things on Facebook, avoiding posting about some of the struggles (unless it is my Mets fandom) in life, for the most part. I kind of wish I did not avoid it. There could be lessons for them to see how their father dealt with the curve balls that life threw at us. Sure, I could sit with them and advise them and share a story of surviving bad times, but even despite best efforts, it will be an edited version of what really happened. History books never tell the full/real story and 20 years from now, how I dealt with, for example, being laid off will probably be washed out by time and a bad memory.

Facebook has been a time travelling adventure for me and that’s why I love it. Sure, being reminded of those deep deep insecurities I had as a nine year old in a new school was troubling, but it gave me a deeper insight of who I was. When put together with all those years of friends, I get a better sense of myself and my friends.

So, yes, I love Facebook.

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