The Social Network

By Chuck Sigars | Apr 17, 2013

My wife and I have been watching the 2006 BBC series “Planet Earth” lately, the show that high definition was created for.

The irony of living in the age of computer-generated images is that we can forget the glory of reality, and that the planet we inhabit is not only stunningly real but alive.

Teeming with life, in fact, almost none of it us. That too can feel ironic, as we watch migration and herd behavior, intricate dances of daily activities that don’t involve a geostationary satellite.

How do sea turtles find their way back, thousands of miles and decades later, to the small island of volcanic rock where they were hatched? We just watch and marvel.

I know how I’d do it, although I have no idea how I’d keep my phone from getting wet.

What role evolution and technology played in our loss of what must have been remarkable human instinct I’ll leave for someone smarter, but it’s apparent that we’re still social animals, even if we look at what’s in our hands more often than we used to.

And long before Mark Zuckerberg did whatever it is that he did (I saw the movie; I’m still a little unsure), people were reaching out into our primitive computing world and finding friends, new and old.

I found several, in fact, although it’s so much easier now. Something else that might not have occurred to Mr. Zuckerberg was that all sorts of people want to connect and reconnect, and some of them have pictures of grandchildren. And cats, of course. I personally have seen both.

It was entirely due to the Internet and social media that I took a trip just about a year ago, flying to my former home of Phoenix. I was there for a college reunion, but as soon as I rented a car I headed downtown to have lunch with a woman I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

We’d worked together once, briefly but long enough to become friends, based partly on proximity, partly on liking the same movies, and partly on her opinion that I had a ways to go toward becoming a productive human being and she was there to help.

She remains one of my best friends, reunited now, and it was nice to see her again. She was polite enough not to comment on how I turned out, or what work I had left to do.

A few months later, I drove to Ellensburg to have lunch with another woman I hadn’t seen in about the same amount of time (of note: If you’re a guy and you’ve been married for a long time, and you think mentioning another woman is a tricky thing to do, try writing about it in a newspaper. I have to hide copies and everything).

We’d also connected online, and since she was going to be in the area for a wedding I took a sunny day off for another reunion.

We had a little more complicated history, considering that I almost married her before my head was turned by a soprano from Texas, but we mostly talked about our families and jobs. It was nice to see her, too.

There’s another woman from my past (I’m just taking my wife out of town this week, easier) on my mind this week, though.

I wrote about her a few months ago, as I described my renewed interest in learning some music theory, how my musician daughter sent me a textbook, and how the whole idea began 40 years ago, with a junior high school music teacher named Ms. Page.

Ms. Page not only inspired my interest in music, but did what special teachers do, which is make their students feel special, too. She gave me some confidence, in other words, which would come in handy, and which is why I wrote about her.

And why I kept that copy of the newspaper on my desk for weeks, before sticking the clipping in an envelope along with a note and mailing it to an address I found (online, of course). Just in case she might care to know she made a difference.

She did, as it turns out. We’ve been catching up.

I know what I’m doing here. I’m ignorant about many things, most of them involving tools, but this isn’t hard to figure out, what I’m doing and what millions of others are, too.

We’re searching for people from our past, which is why Facebook is becoming the first landing spot for older and older generations: We have more past.

And hidden in that past is who we were supposed to be, who we were once, who we became. So while there are probably plenty of rekindled romances and shaky relationships that get tidied up, I suspect most of us understand, with enough years under our belts, that we have done something remarkable.

It’s a tough planet. I don’t need to tell you that, and “Planet Earth” reminds us anyway. What we’ve done, then, is survive.

And grow, and change, and stay the same all at once. This is why we seek out old friends, and why I got so much pleasure out of hearing from my former music teacher. I was 13 and she was 22, and now we’re not, and the stories of how we got here are the best ones.

I’m taking my wife to Portland. I’ve decided. So let’s just keep this between ourselves.

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