Across the Universe by
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The Oculus, NYC – everyone looking at their phones

When I think of social media, the first thing I think of is Facebook.

For me, Facebook was always about sharing pictures and bits of news with family and friends who are scattered around the world. Now, in addition, it involves sharing links to articles about the current terrifying political situation. I have never considered it a place to make new friends. From the time I joined Facebook, my policy was to accept friend requests only from people I was actually friends with in real life. Unlike younger people I knew, who had thousands of “friends,” many of whom were people they had met once, or not at all, I had fewer than a hundred friends, all people who were important to me in real life. Once, when I was in a foreign country, using a strange computer, Facebook wanted to verify my identity, so it showed me pictures from my friends’ pages and asked me to choose which friend had posted each one. I had no trouble doing it, but it occurred to me that if I had adopted the “friend everyone you meet” philosophy, I probably couldn’t have passed the test.

The only people I have become Facebook friends with whom I didn’t know in real life are people from Retrospect. Even then, I didn’t do it right away. But after we had been reading and commenting on each other’s stories for several months, it felt like I knew them. Indeed, they knew many things about my life that my closest real-life friends, and even my family, didn’t know. When I decided I wanted to connect with one writer whose stories showed that we had a lot in common, I sent her an email asking her if she would like to be friends on Facebook, rather than just clicking the “Add Friend” button. She responded that she would, and only then did I click the button. We live on opposite sides of the country, but when I went to Cambridge for my college reunion, I made arrangements to get together with her. We greeted each other like old friends, and felt instantly comfortable. Now that I think about it, that friendship was created and nurtured on Retrospect, not on Facebook. Similarly, I am Facebook friends with about eight other people from Retrospect whom I have never met in person, but all of our interactions are here, not on Facebook.

So actually, I now realize, all my social media friendships are the product of Retrospect. I wasn’t thinking about this site as falling under the umbrella of social media, but it does. The definition of social media, which I found (where else?) online, is: “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.” Retrospect was created to enable all of us baby boomers to create and share content. In the process, it turned out that we have been doing some social networking too.

The rules when we were beta testing the site back in 2016 required us to comment on other people’s stories as well as writing our own. That commenting requirement was hugely important in creating this network. When I first started writing and posting my stories, I didn’t feel any satisfaction until I got comments. And the more I got comments, the more I wanted to write stories. Those of us who are still around from the beta testing days consistently write comments on everyone’s stories. I urge the rest of you who are not in that habit to do so too. That is what makes this site so special, in my opinion, and why I couldn’t let it die when the creators decided, after three-plus years, that they didn’t want to do it any more. I could have made a blog and posted my stories there, as some of my friends and relatives were suggesting I do, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the community.

Before I started writing this story, I expected to come to the conclusion that real-life friendships are better than social media ones. But, as so often happens, I discovered what I thought by writing about it. (As another Sacramentan, Joan Didion, said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.”) And it turns out that my social media friendships created on Retrospect are just as important to me as any of my real-life friendships. Thank you for being here!

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Hello FRIEND! Yes, Retrospect has given us wonderful insights into like-minded people and created real fellowship among those of us who are constant contributors. We have learned so much about one another (we all hated PE), we tend to be socially liberal. This is a wonderful, supportive community. Long may it grow and nurture.

  2. First off, I was going to comment even before I got to your point about comments. Honest! And I concur fully with the notion of writing as an aid to thinking. I suspect that our experiences with Facebook are as varied as our number. But one thing occurs to me after reading your story and Betsy’s: once the contact is established is there a reason that you continue the exchange on Facebook rather than straight e-mail? Or am I misinterpreting?

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tom, now that you know I live for the comments! As to your question about communicating on FB vs. email, there are probably other reasons to stay on FB, but the reason I stay is FB Messenger, where you can have actual conversations in real time, as opposed to sending an email and waiting a while for a response. It’s like the old instant messaging, which I never did but my kids sure did when they were in HS.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Not only an incredibly thoughtful piece, Suzy, but one that really validates Retrospect and the fact that Retrospect has truly created a community among us. And this also underscores how you truly are our leader here within Retrospect.

    Any thoughts about a real-life “union” (Can’t call it a reunion for many of us for obvious reasons)? I propose Tulsa. Not only is it in the middle of the country, but one of my Facebook friends, a comedian/columnist named Barry Friedman, lives there. It is the home of his fictional business operations, Friedman of the Plains, LLC (based on the name the incomparable Charlie Pierce has given him in Esquire). I am the titular General Counsel of FOTP, LLC, by the way.

    Union or no, thank you again — and I know I speak for all of us — for all you have done for Retrospect.

    • Suzy says:

      Well, I’ve never been to Oklahoma, but my friends Rodgers & Hammerstein tell me it is OK. I would go to Tulsa if other Retrospecters were willling to, AND if your friend Barry Friedman started writing for Retro as well.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, thank you for putting into very well expressed words how Retrospect differs from other places for which I have written. I was told a successful blog post is one that generates controversy. I’ve had a few of those and I hate it. Community is so much better. While most folks spend far too much time looking at their phones and accumulating hundreds of random “friends,” I appreciate how different Retrospect is. It may be virtual but we are making real connections.

    • Suzy says:

      Laurie, I appreciate the connection I have made with you over the last few months! Maybe some day we will even get to meet in person. (See John’s suggestion, above, about having a meet-up in Tulsa.)

  5. John Zussman says:

    A lovely story, Suzy, and a fine tribute to Retrospect and the magic of sharing stories with each other. When Patti, Susan, and I first created the site, a venture capitalist friend called it the “anti-Twitter” and that sounded right. We’re grateful for your decision to become a beta tester, for your ongoing commitment to write, share, and comment, and for your passion to keep Retrospect going.

  6. This is such a well-thought-out piece, Suzy and the stages of your thinking about Retrospect as social media do come across so clearly. I agree that Retro qualifies by any social-media definition, but the interactive nature of the site relies greatly on the comment section.

    Certainly the comments are important. How else would we know we had an audience??? Thanks so much for lending your spark, skills, and talents to keeping Retrospect going. I hope you and your Retro colleagues know how much you are all appreciated!

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