Social media has been good to me for over 15 years

Today’s social media is both very different from the social internet in the 1990s and eerily similar. I’ve often equated twitter with the chat rooms I frequented back in 1995-1999ish. Twitter is like a 90s chatroom on steroids. It just wasn’t called social media at the time.

For a few months in 1996, I used my parents computer to log on to the freenet - in the days of dialup, freenet was the equivalent to using dialup now - pretty painful. There was probably computer access provided at my college, but it never even occurred to me to use it. I wasn’t there long anyway. I transferred to Florida State in the fall of 1996 and discovered the bliss of using a T1 connection at the school library, which seemed to be overflowing with computers.

I spent hours at various libraries - checking email, installing ICQ over and over again (IT wiped it out all the time), playing in the chat rooms and surfing the web. (Oh, yes, we surfed. Does anyone say that anymore?)

The best part about those chat rooms?

They introduced me to Sam, my first online friend in Canada. We were in touch as recently as 5 years ago. If I emailed her today, we’d have a great time catching up.

Mark, a guy who was originally from Ottawa but has mostly lived in the U.S. since I’ve known him.

Shawn, whose 11 year old son hacked into my computer while we were in an ICQ real-time chat. (Shawn was so mad when I told him, but I thought it was funny - too smart for his own good, that one!)

Anne, Shawn’s wife who wasn’t nearly as involved, but was always so nice to chat with.

Ryan, who I met in Orlando (after getting a whopper of a speeding ticket…ouch) and we did 3 Disney parks in one day - good times!

I met a couple of others in-person whose names have faded from my memory. I even exchanged letters with some, which I recognize as being rather odd at a time when email was becoming so prevalent. I used to chat with a guy from Russia who would catch me during my work day - very late for him - just so he could practice his English. Then there was the guy from Australia who was severely epileptic and admitted to drinking regularly and too much - a fairly big no-no with his drug regimen. He would email his writing to me to read and he was SO bloody talented. If I remembered his name, I’d be doing searches on Amazon for his book(s). Surely he’s been published by now.

People wonder why I take the time to use “social media”. It’s because I’ve been using it for all of my adult life. It’s because I’ve met so many wonderful people through it - including my husband. I’ve connected with people all over the world through the Internet for a myriad of reasons.

And it’s been good. Really, really good.

Just in the nick of time

The early part of this week was hot for this time of year in Ottawa. All over twitter, I was seeing the #Hottawa hashtag in use as everyone tried to make it through the days without melting.

I had a few interesting conversations because I don’t like the heat, yet I’m from Florida. Born and raised. How could I not like the heat? Well, I just never have liked hot weather. I’m a moderate weather girl, preferring the comfortable temps of a spring and fall to the extremes that come with summer and winter. Hot weather reminds me of the many years without air conditioning in houses or cars, which is miserable in Florida, let me tell you. Heat rash, itchy sweat, lethargy. Heat drains me much the same way that being in a crowded room does to an introvert (I might know about that from personal experience too).

The worst summer, by far, was 1998. Perhaps because I was old enough to actually remember and document it. Perhaps because it was just a memorable year in general. Perhaps because it was just so hot it was burned into my brain. Or maybe that was just the year - for better or worse - I finally started making decisions for myself.

One decision I made was to go with my best friend to visit her father and step-mom on the east coast. To get there, we had to drive east from Tally over to US Route 1 around Jacksonville and down the coast to their town. This wasn’t the quick way, but the faster route was closed thanks to the rash of forest fires that year. 

The trip from Tallahassee to Jacksonville was fairly uneventful, probably because we left at approximately 2:00am-ish. Our methods of staying awake were questionable, but effective. What we weren’t prepared for was the drive down US Route 1. The smoke from the fires was so thick in places we had to slow to a crawl. The smell permeated the car and I’m not sure that car was ever the same again.

The most alarming part of the trip was the charred forest we drove by for miles, only to come to a lush green section that went on for just a quarter of a mile (if that) before we saw a gas station.

After that sight, much of the trip is a blur. I don’t think I remember anything about our return home. But I will never forget the sight of smoke, charred wood, and the visible evidence of just-in-the-nick-of-time work that was done to keep a bad situation from getting exponentially worse.

*****

This post was based on the prompt “Share a memorable road trip story!” from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop.

Smile, because you aren't wearing braces anymore.

Matt and I took this week off to spend time going through the piles of accumulated junk in our house. We’re purging, cleaning and organizing our little butts off. Today, in particular, we gutted our home office and started the process of going through boxes that have barely been touched since we moved in.

I happen to be a fairly sentimental type and I keep things that mean something to me. Sometimes they are reminders of the really amazing friends I’ve had throughout my life.

When I opened one box, I knew I’d be spending a while examing its contents. It was filled with cards, letters and notes from people I’ve known - mostly as a teenager and into my early twenties. There was one note that hurt to read - though not as much as when I received it. My relationship with the authors had changed and I don’t think it ever fully recovered back then. Now that we’re all adults, the memories of those times have faded and I see the people they have become and I’m glad I’ve restored contact even though our paths diverged in life.

I kept the note. It doesn’t have the power to hurt me that it did back then. But it taught me today that nothing is insurmountable.

What was overwhelmingly obvious was that I have had many people in my life who appreciated and cared about me - even if they were only a part of my life for a short time. I saw names that I no longer remember saying beautiful things to and about me. Piles of birthday cards and Christmas cards from my (then) teenaged friends. I don’t remember doing Christmas cards for my friends, but maybe I did.

There was one note that stuck out above all the rest. There is no name, but it was clearly written by a boy in one of my classes. I think I know who wrote it, but there are 3-4 possibilities, so I’m not 100% sure. It was a note passed to me in class. And it had to have been in 10th grade*, though there is no date. This note made me smile and I couldn’t resist sharing it:

Hey Karen, what’s up? How are you? Why do you seem so depressed lately?

Me: I don’t know exactly. I just haven’t been very happy with anything.

Smile, because you aren’t wearing braces anymore.

Me: That really won’t help any.

So?

Indeed.

I often forget how blessed I’ve been by friends throughout my life. This friend just wanted me to smile. He cared enough about my state of mind to work at coaxing it from me when I wasn’t willing.

I hope I smiled when I got this note like I am as I read it again nearly 18 years later.

I think I’ll keep this note, too.

*****

*My braces were removed two weeks into my 10th grade year. I walked into classes late that day, smiling wide as one of the guys yelled out, “Do your teeth feel like snot?” And all the kids who’d had braces laughed because, yes, they did.

The unfortunate demise of my parents' first ever brand-new car

I don’t have any pictures of the actual truck I drove. But this one’s pretty close.So, Christine just wrote about her first car - the Green machine and I couldn’t resist writing about my first car, which also happened to be green, though it was actually a truck.

My first car wasn’t really my car. But I became the primary driver because my mom was extremely generous and she also appreciated the help since she wasn’t always in the best of health.

It was a forest green 1989 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck that had beige pleather interior and plastic flooring - no carpet at all (which was actually kind of nice in Florida). My dad got my mom this truck for her birthday in 1988. It was their very first brand new vehicle. It was so nice. We were very much a second hand car family. Mom’s favorite - she always said - was the Galaxy that was white with forest green interior. I only remembered that it was ugly. :) So, dad bought the truck in October for my mom’s birthday. He proceeded to tease her for quite a long time that it was only meant to be for her birthday and that it was his once her birthday had passed. Just 6 years later, I ended up driving it far more than both of them.

When I turned 15, I was eligible to get my learner’s permit in the State of Florida. I procrastinated and didn’t get it until about 3 months before my 16th birthday when I would be eligible for my full driver’s license. My parents told me that they wanted me to drive for a full year before I got my license and I was okay with that. I took Driver’s Education in summer school and drove for about 7-8 months before mom and Dad decided to let me get my license. I think I got it in November of 1993.

It wasn’t long before I started taking my mom to work in the mornings, then driving to school and returning to pick her up from work in the evenings. It was great! Mom worked long days, and rarely left the office due to her physical limitations, so I had a car to get to and from school and all my other activities.

I never fully understood why - perhaps it was being in the south and the truck-driving culture there, but I seemed to get lots of compliments about that truck. I learned how to change its tires, top up the oil (when it had a leak) and other general things that have to be done regularly with a car. I learned the hard way about filling up with gas on time. I think Dad still reminds me that “E” doesn’t mean “enough”. I also did my fair share of giving rides to friends after school and band practice. Those were good times.

Sadly, just a year after I got my license and during my senior (12th grade) year, I had an accident that totaled the truck. On my way to church one Sunday afternoon not long after a rainstorm had ended, I was driving on a road that had water in the ruts. This wasn’t a problem until someone passed me coming the other direction and sprayed dirty water from the road all over my windshield. I turned my wipers on right away, but it wasn’t quickly enough. A line of cars had stopped in front of me because a car was turning left. I hit the brakes, turned my wheel all the way to the right and kept going straight into the back of the minivan in the back of the lineup. That water on the road caused my view of the road to be impaired and then caused me to hydroplane so that I couldn’t avoid the accident. If only the police could have assigned fault to the water instead of me!

What was worse was the absolutely mortifying coincidence that no less than 10 people I knew from school drove by the scene of the accident. They were very nice, offering to help, but it was still very embarrassing. Especially when I had to retell the details to all the people that found out about the accident the next day. Fortunately, there were no injuries - apart from my pride and the front end of the truck. I couldn’t believe how well the van made it through the accident. There was damage, but nothing like what happened to my truck.

The damage to my pride didn’t stop with the accident. From that day on I was forced to drive either my parents’ blue Caprice Classic station wagon to school or my grandmother’s Ford Fairmont (0-60 in 5 minutes flat!) to school. If you asked me which of the two I preferred, to this day I can’t tell you.

*****

Do you have a good story about your first car? Share it and link up at Coffees and Commutes!

I don't love Facebook; I just like what it's done for me

I live approximately 1,500 miles from my hometown, Tallahassee, Florida. All my family still live in the U.S. and I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I’d like. I left behind a lifetime’s worth of friendships that are hard to maintain over time and distance.

Just when I thought I’d probably never see or hear from my long distance friends, along comes Facebook and my friends list exploded overnight. 

I joined Facebook in summer of 2007. At first, I really didn’t use it much. I had one friend - the person who invited me - for quite a while. After making my first connection with someone I hadn’t seen in years, I began to see the value of this thing called Facebook. I started seeking people out - searching for names of people I hadn’t seen since high school, wanting to know where they were and what they were doing, how their lives were going.

There were two people I was almost desperate to reconnect with. But every attempt to find them was fruitless, either because the search results were so abundant that I didn’t have a prayer of a chance of picking the right one, or because they hadn’t signed up to the time-sucking vampire that is Facebook.

It turns out that, among my oldest friends, I was the early-adopter of this particular social media addiction. The first of the two people I was eagerly waiting to hear from popped up about a year after I joined. Dawn and I lost touch because of email address changes and technology fails in the form of lost data. Her first message to me was, “You have a child!” That made me smile, even though it was sad that I didn’t get to share that news with her a lot sooner. Dawn was a very dear friend I met when we both showed up to our first studio class in the same jacket. We were both voice students in the music education program at Florida State University. We bonded over our identical jackets and eventually shared many classes together - the best being grad student Tracy’s Music Theory class.

The second person I was anxious to find on Facebook finally showed up last week. She and I spent our last five years in school together. We met in 8th grade when she came to my school new. We were both sort of anomolies - she was the new student and I was the home-schooled student who came for band. (Yeah, I was a band nerd like that.) We were BFFs through all four years of high school. She was a majorette and I was on the flag corps. We had lively and respectful discussions about our differing beliefs during our many sleepovers - as well as a few fairly embarrassing writing sessions. (I hope we burned those notebooks so our kids don’t get their hands on them.)

When I saw her name pop up on my news feed on Facebook, I wanted to do cartwheels. It has been almost 10 years since we had any contact and I’ve missed her very much. I’m so happy to have her back in my life again. Every attempt I made to find her previously was unsuccessful, but I knew we’d cross paths somehow, someday.

Facebook gets a lot of flack - and rightly so - for it’s cavalier attitude about privacy and not knowing how to make things opt-in instead of opt-out. But I can’t regret that I’m on there, nor will I delete my account anytime soon. Because, to me, it’s too valuable to be able to connect with people who are dear to me on a regular basis in the small ways that I get to connect with them on Facebook. Several of my family members are on there now as well and that’s been so exciting for me.

Certain people wonder why I love blogging and social media as much as I do. Well, this is a huge part of why I love it and am so involved in it. It’s all about the connections I can maintain with people I don’t get to see anymore. For me, Facebook and my blog in particular have significantly decreased the distance I feel from my loved ones and I hope they feel closer to me as well.

So, what about you? What do you get from social networks you’re involved in?