It is 5:14 AM.
This week I received a response to a message I sent many years ago to my very first internet friend. Unlike most people I still have all my data from when I first started using computers back in 1992. I also keep a treasure chest that I’ve had since I was a kid.
The treasure chest is just an old steam boat trunk whose origins or how it came to us, I have no idea. One day it was there an my Mom said I could have it. So I took it and inside placed all the important things I wanted to keep forever. These items include: my very first blanket, my favorite stuffed animal, first baseball glove, yearbooks, individual class pictures, fifth grade love letters, favorite GI Joe action figures, school newsletters, my kids club (TV) membership card and about 200 other treasures mostly from childhood, high school and college.
The fact that I’ve kept all of this stuff, both physical and all my data means I can easily look back into the past of my own life – this very blog is a prime example. Being able to do so is absolutely priceless to me and I think I’m the only person I know who can do so. I’ve found that my contemporaries have pretty much all forgotten the past: they’ve forgotten how they thought, how they felt and even the bonds of friendship they used to share with others. They exist with nothing but faded, deteriorating memories of the past. Many barely even live in the present, always occupying themselves with an endless amount of tasks, only thinking about tomorrow without fully existing today.
I do not forget the past. It is as easy for me to tell you the name of the very first girl I had a crush on back in pre-school (Emily) as it is the name of someone I met yesterday. At almost forty years old I’ve learned that this is quite unusual; so I’ve ceased to be disappointed when I reach out to someone I knew in the past and they do not respond. At first I thought it might be that I thought much more of our friendship then they did which might be true in a few cases. But more often than not I believe it is due to the fact adults forget. They get busy (especially around this age) with children, with mid-life crises, advancing in careers and they get old and have faltering memories.
But this week I did receive a response to a message I had sent a few years ago to my very first internet friend. I was looking through old photos, found hers and then saw she was on Facebook. I shot her a note but since we weren’t connected I’m assuming it went to the “other” folder that nobody checks. Just a few days ago she updated the messaging app and saw my message.
I tell you I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised! The only other person who could have surprised me more with a response is Mary. Who is Mary you ask? Mary is (was?) a friend of mine who I met in Vietnam. I considered us very good friends but then I introduced her to one of my extremely handsome friends Ryan when he came to visit. Well, sure enough they hit it off (with Ryan, no surprise there) and had a bit of a long distance relationship for a few years. Well, unfortunately it didn’t work out as Ryan isn’t exactly Mr. Commitment. And so now, Mary won’t respond to my e-mails. So, life lesson: do not introduce your friends that are girls to your handsome buddies because when it doesn’t work out you’ll lose the girl-friend.
Staying friends with girls as one gets older is tricky business anyway because adults get married and then any friendships with the opposite sex is looked upon with suspicion due to insecurity. There is some good reason for this though as many adults are an absolute mess and should be kept separated and within strict boundaries. However, if one’s spouse is secure then it isn’t much of an issue. For me, I have many longtime friends that are girls and my wife has longtime friends that are guys. Two of her guy friends have actually come to stay with us and we showed them around. For me, this is the best relationship scenario – complete confidence and trust that it is not even an issue. I’d say only 5% of couples my age have a relationship as solid as this.
Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent again. My first internet buddy was Mai, but before she was Mai she was BCPommer and we met in an AOL chatroom. My screen name was Europe007.
The experience of the AOL chatroom was absolutely exhilarating and something that the kids of today will never understand. You could go into a chat room based on a variety of subjects and just start chatting with complete strangers! This was the first time in history we could reach out and communicate with millions of others through a computer screen in the comfort of our own homes.
First, you had to sign on to AOL and to do so nobody could be using the telephone line. If the phone was free you’d ‘dial-up’ and hear the most awful modem sounds while it connected. Next was the famous “You’ve got mail,” which informed you if you had e-mail or not. Back then getting e-mail was wonderful – my how things have changed. After checking e-mail I’d usually go into a chat room and one day I met BCPommer.
In the chat rooms you had no idea who you were talking to, the actual conversation was all you had to go on. Also unlike today these were strangers from all over the USA! Now days we’ve walled ourselves in to only people we know in real life which is an absolute shame. How limiting it is! And there is no such thing as a chat room in Facebook. You only have messenger and within messenger people these days only know how to have very brief, four or five line conversations! The method of communicating these days is with pictures and one or two lines in a comment. No more interesting discussions and a much weaker connection with people. The level of interaction is severely degraded through this type of communication.
But with BCPommer (Mai) we had a lot to talk about and later on learned that we were also the same age. After AOL (around 1999 or so) we did keep in touch with e-mails. This is another form of communication that only survives at work and with spam. I cannot tell you the last time I received a very long catch up e-mail from someone. Without exaggerating it must be at least 10 years or so – roughly when MySpace, Facebook started to gain traction.
Mai and I kept in touch until 2004 – I can tell exactly because I keep all my data, even e-mails and here is the e-mail! 🙂 And now a brief message here in the year 2016. My how quickly time goes.
However, it is highly unlikely there will be any other messages and this story will end.
Sometimes I wish I had a pen-pal but I think it isn’t something people do anymore. I have a need to write and express but in this age of very short attention spans at all out ADD this blog is my only outlet. Perhaps AI will one day step in for what used to be the rare, deep, human connection.
I’m reminded of conversations in high school, usually one on one when you could have a deep conversation with a friend. So much was happening in life, the future so uncertain and it was good to just be able to talk about it all. In high school the best discussions I had were with John Clifton over coffee at Stauf’s.
As adults however, you don’t get to have these discussions anymore unless perhaps after many beers or glasses of wine. Adults hide their true thoughts and emotions, mostly out of fear and insecurity. It is rare for adults to truly open up because being an adult means being strong, having it all together and never showing a weak side.
That is what is really great about having an anonymous pen-pal, you can really open up, uninhibited and have an actual response, interaction which is absolutely necessary for human beings and not be afraid of what others may think, say or how they will judge. Our current social networks do not allow for this. Thus my thought that perhaps in the near future AI will become our best friends, the only one that truly understands us on the deepest level.
Perhaps I just stumbled upon a new business opportunity? Sort of a matchmaker network for anonymous pen-pals! Or AI, not as your ‘assistant’ but best confidant!
Anyway, the household has woken up and so this post must come to an abrupt end.