Yesterday, out of the blue, I got an email from an old, long-lost friend, who (after some six years of silence) looked me up on the Internet.
When I say “old friend”, I mean really old friends: we were best friends in middle school, damn near inseparable, who went off to different high schools and subsequently fell out of touch. In 1994 or thereabouts (some 10 years later), he dropped me an email asking if I were really “that Tien-Yee Chiu who went to Wilde Lake Middle School”. Indeed! I was delighted. We met a couple times for lunch whenever we were in the same area, and it was fun catching up.
Subsequently, after a year or two of silence, I discovered that he’d moved, changed email addresses, and left no trace of himself behind. I tried looking him up on the Internet a couple times, but because he has a fairly common name, I had no luck, or rather too much luck: out of 108 people with the same name, which one was he?
So I didn’t have much choice but to sit back and wait, hoping he’d get back in touch with me.
And then, an email, out of the blue.
It’s funny what the Internet has brought me over the years. Having a fairly distinctive name and a website has enabled all sorts of old friends and acquaintances to look me up, including some fairly obscure ones. (“Hi, you won’t remember me, but I was working as an editor at the newspaper you wrote for while you were in high school – I stumbled across a posting to an email list, and thought your name looked familiar…”) Two of my close friends from middle school re-found me that way, and it’s one of the reasons I list my full name on my website (in the metadata where it doesn’t interfere with the rest of the website).
And then, of course, there’s Facebook. I’ve gotten back in touch with countless of my high school friends via Facebook…almost every month I get another friend request from someone out of the long-lost past. (I’m playing a word game right now with one of my high school classmates, who I literally heard from for twenty years!) The magic of the Internet, and especially of social networks! : it enables you to reweave those webs of friendship that have worn thin or broken over time.
And weave new ones, of course.
From time to time I think of how the Internet has transformed life. Even such simple things as driving from place to place. It used to be that you had to get driving directions from someone, or else own a map. Now we have Yahoo! and Google Maps to tell us how to go, map out the route, and even tell us about how long it will take to get there! (Not to mention my iPhone…which not only does all that on the fly, starting from wherever you currently are, but also tells you the traffic conditions along the way!) And ordering things…remember the days of paper catalogs? And if you didn’t know where to find the right catalog for what you were looking for, you were out of luck? (There were even catalogs of catalogs!) Now we type a couple of search terms into a little box, and presto! five or six companies selling whatever your heart desires.
I’m old enough to remember when email was novel (I remember being thrilled at being able to send “instant letters” to friends at distant colleges!), but I’ve practically forgotten the Bad Old Days. It’s like life without a microwave oven (I remember that too…barely), only much, much, more so. The Internet has expanded our horizons immeasurably, and I am grateful.
And now, I am back in touch with my long-lost friend, who I thought was lost to me forever, and we can catch up on the last six years.
Hooray for the Internet! The World Wide Web truly does weave us all together.