Ten years ago, a 20-year-old Harvard nerd named Mark Zuckerberg and friends created a social phenomenon that revolutionized the way that relationships are conducted and nurtured. For the first time, future generations could spend a lifetime without ever losing touch with their friends and family, anywhere on the globe. At the same time, millions of middle-aged and older people would spend more time re-igniting old friendships than they would making new ones. He had created a whole new concept in interpersonal dynamics, and its name was Facebook.
Exactly 30 years earlier, another young man graduated from Seminole High School and wrote the first chapter of a more typical, Baby Boomer kind of script. After deciding to hold off on college for a year, he headed to Louisiana to make some quick money in petro-chemical construction. He said goodbye to his family and friends - some of them, forever.
After a year, he kept a promise to himself, said goodbye, again, to his new friends in New Orleans, and entered college in Southern California. Making new friends during his freshmen year was about all he thought he had time for, though, and after another year he decided that, while college was a blast, the rigors of academia bored him. Goodbye, again.
Over the next decade, the "kid" would attack every new opportunity and he would work a variety of jobs in southern Louisiana's thriving offshore oil and refinery construction industry, finally becoming a Quality Control inspector. He even took a few years in between to return to the West Coast and indulge his passion as a professional musician, before waving farewell to California for the second time.
Finally growing weary of the on-again, off-again ebbs and flow of the construction trades, the man, having gotten married and begun raising a family, launched a publishing company at the age of 33. As his new business and family expanded, he moved it from New Orleans to William Faulkner's and John Grisham's Oxford, Mississippi in 1996, and then to Middle Tennessee. He continued to exchange old acquaintances for new ones.
Meanwhile, having been blindsided by a sudden health issue that sidelined him for almost a year, and by a subsequent failed marriage, the man returned, some 38 years later, to the home in Texas where he was raised. Goodbye to the people who saved his life at Vanderbilt University Hospital. Goodbye Tennessee. He soon began writing for a local newspaper, the same one he grew up seeing on the coffee table.
And at every new fork in the road, in true Baby Boomer fashion - in fact, in much the same way that Americans have done it since the first immigrants began arriving from Europe, and later as subsequent generations began migrating west - he was forced to say goodbye to someone, to everyone, at every turn. With every career and geographical move, he knew he would never see those friends again. Emotional departures and new horizons were a fact of life for him, and for most in his generation.
He said goodbye to school friends he had grown up with, he left behind college buddies and girlfriends, other acquaintances in the construction and offshore oil industries. He parted ways, sometimes with tears in his eyes, with friends and fans in Southern California's music industry, and severed ties with still more in NASCAR and other associates accumulated over 22 years in the racing industry. He left the doctors and nurses who had become part of his new, extended family for almost a year. Detachment and separation were part of the cycle of life for him and his fellow Boomers.
Somewhere along the way, the man's daughter, intent on becoming a U.S. Senator from Tennesee, graduated from high school and entered college at the University of the South in Suwanee, the institution where literary giant Tennessee Williams had left his entire fortune to the liberal arts and creative writing programs.
At about the same time, another college student, a Harvard sophomore named Mark Zuckerberg, taking an idea from a fledgling website called MySpace.com, was writing a program for a website called Facemash. It was an effort designed to determine a critical issue, the question of the ages: "Who's Hot and Who's Not" at Harvard, with pictures of the Not-So-Hots sometimes posed next to photos of farm animals.
A grossly immature concept, but brilliant in execution and innovation, Zuckerberg and his friends quickly realized the potential as the newly renamed Facebook network raced through Boston, then through the Ivy League, and on to the mostly northeastern Episcopalian-bred student body at the University of the South. Spreading like a virus through college campuses across the country, it went mainstream and finally reached Joe Six-Pack out in flyover country.
Down in Tennessee, the young college girl had caught on quickly, and just as quickly realized that, regardless of where life would take her, and whatever choices she made (she had by then rejected politics as "dirty business") she would never have to truly say goodbye forever. To anyone. Ever. Hers would be the first generation who never fell out of touch.
Now she has the ability to share her thoughts in real time with old high school and college friends, and family, from her new home out west. Every new career change can be discussed among the new "millennials", every baby's first steps witnessed by hundreds of friends, some of whom she has known since kindergarten.
It took another four years for her Dad to catch on to this social media revolution, and he enjoys his online time with "Facebook friends" and members of his extended family around the country. Old friends that he thought he had lost forever are coming back into view. Others will never reappear, and besides, he soon discovered that one can never really re-create the magic of those one-on-one relationships, gained and lost over more than 50 years. He can witness what the love of his life - or so he thought, when he was 16 - had for lunch today, even before the waiter delivers the check, and later her recipe for EZ chicken casserole. But as the old folks say, too much water has flowed under the bridge.
Consider that the Baby Boom generation has seen more technological changes during its lifetime than during the entire history of mankind that preceded it. Information-gathering and internet communication generally leads the way, and social media sites in particular have revolutionized the way most people communicate. To some who have stayed mostly stationary in a given location since birth, and remained among close friends throughout, it is somewhat less important - many reject it altogether. To others who've remained more mobile throughout much of their lives, it's a lifeline of sorts, a connection to the past.