Thursday, May 12, 2011

Modern immortality

Someone I didn't know well, but Facebook keeps suggesting as a friend because we went to high school together and have 46 mutual friends, was stabbed to death last weekend in Rockford, in an apparent robbery attempt. I Googled his name (but won't use it in this blog) and discovered he was wanted by Rockford Crime Stoppers back in January for drug violations.

After reading other Facebook friends' messages about the guy, I returned home from the library to look him up in my yearbooks. I started with senior year and worked backwards. There's only one photo of the guy, from the 1986-87 Harlem Junior High Yearbook. He had the look of a mid-80s stoner, feathered hair, dazed look in the eye, and black t-shirt. As I looked at this photo of someone I didn't know, but a web site sidebar on a social networking site insisted I did know, I wondered about this stranger's path, and how the glowing details in his obituary differ from the less-flattering details given by the Crime Stoppers report.

About 1/3 of my current Facebook friends are people I went to high school with and haven't seen since. For me, the secondary school years are ones best forgotten. I was an outsider. I ate lunch alone everyday. What few friends I did have didn't attend my high school. I never attended a prom or homecoming. I never dated a girl at my high school or walked the halls holding hands. After I graduated, I went back a couple times to see an English teacher who had a positive influence on me, but didn't maintain contact with any of my classmates.

Over the years, I've maintained friendships with a few people I went to high school with, but none of them are in my current circle of regular friends. I have had the pleasure of getting to know and really liking a couple of them through their Facebook posts, and I would like to reunite with them again, but I haven't pursued it because I fear a face to face encounter would just be awkward and strange.

I find when I make a new Facebook friend from high school days, I go home to look at those yearbooks to try and remember who they were. More often than not, no specific memories can be attached to these "friends."

Indeed, Facebook "friends" are different from real "friends."

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