Monday, May 10, 2010

Friends, what are they?

The dictionary lists one of them as “a person with whom you are acquainted” and yes, today, I have one person in mind. A better definition might be “a person you know well and regard with affection and trust.”

With all of the social media attention recently, with Twitter and Facebook and the like, there are a few terms being thrown around, like “Friend Me on Facebook” or “Follow Me on Twitter”, or just what is this thing called FriendFeed? It seems like everywhere I turn these days, someone is asking me this – “Friend me on Facebook.” Sometimes it’s a person; sometimes it’s a company. Should I become “friends” with a company? GE – I don’t know, Comcast – nope, Rockwell, Nike, Ford? How about HP, or Accenture? Barrick Gold, or Ryanair, or Phillip Morris (jeez I could talk a bunch about how big tobacco and these “scientists” of theirs setup the climate change debate we’ve been going through these last few years), or Halliburton, or Monsanto?

It’s a difficult situation with social media these days, as I said, everyone wants to be your friend, and I’ve “followed” a small group myself, those people with similar interests on Twitter, or my family on Facebook. But I find myself (after posting a few things) wondering what all of the fuss is about. Isn’t this all supposed to be about communication?

My daughter is totally caught up in the Facebook phenomena, until she got in trouble with one of her friends from school, and before we got things brought under control, some hurtful things were said, in the rather public forum that these internet companies have set up. In the last presidential election, a number of appointees didn’t get jobs because it’s so easy to “Google” information about a person, especially since these companies have opened themselves up to the search engines. And I didn’t want that for my daughter. A few of these “presidential” appointees have been in totally embarrassing situations, where pictures of themselves in totally inappropriate situations are displayed for all to see. Is this friendship? In my daughter’s case, it became a teachable moment.

Recently, since she’s matured a bit and since we talk and monitor her account (and she knows we do, usually complaining about her privacy, until I gently remind her that you have no privacy with your “friends” when the friend-feed or facebookers are really just selling your information because you checked a privacy setting on the website wrong –  and besides, most of these privacy laws are setup to keep the government from looking into your private things, not corporations. This isn’t a very clear situation on the legal front.)

Recently, as I started to say, she’s had some terrible comments posted on some of her pictures at this Facebook social network. In the most specific of terms, it’s called “hate speech” – but Facebook won’t do much, a little research indicates they are not doing much to keep the anti-holocaust hate groups from spreading more of their own version of hate. And if thousands of people complaining to Facebook about a holocaust issue isn’t changing their minds about how their business should be doing the right thing, how am I going to get their attention about one little girl’s Facebook picture albums? I’m sorry, but I’m all for free speech, but just like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, there are limits. And that’s why I know I have to take this to the “hate speech” writer’s parents (yes, this other person commenting is a child). I was calling around to get the parent’s phone number, and one mother I talked to was saying that this boy is a little ADHD, a little hyper, as if this excuses the behavior. I didn’t say anything to this; my mission is to get a message, very crisp, to the “responsible” party, the parents – while there is some time for them to influence how their boy grows up. Maybe it’s already a bit too late, that part I don’t know.

Like many of the older generation, I grew up in a pretty strict family setting, one where you didn’t talk back, you “minded your elders and your manners” and you largely were deeply loved. Sure there were lots of exceptions, everyone remembers the kids being picked on in school (and they still are getting picked on, it’s just more gang-like and that by itself is very troubling) and the sibling rivalry getting out of hand, and when Dr. Spock was saying spare the rod and spoil the child, there was probably a fair amount of what today we might call child abuse going on. Some pretty famous serial killers have been formed by family situations that are totally out of control.

For the record, we are adoptive parents, and we had to go through a “ton of approvals” – background checks, finger printing, house inspections, pool inspections, locking up the poisons in the household, and locking up the medicine cabinet, too. We’ve always said, anyone looking to have a child, not just adoptive parents, but anyone, should have to go through these procedures. We are also biological parents, and none of this applied to that child’s birth. You were supposed to have learned all about this from your own parents, the village takes care of the child, all of that. But after my children were born, I realize now totally deficient I am as a parent. I also know I can’t give them up. I have to be their parent, even with my faults.

Consider this – when a person on Twitter claims 37,508 “Followers” – can anyone of them truly be a friend? Maybe 10… I told my daughter quite a few years ago she might find 2, maybe 3 people she could truly be friends with in her whole lifetime. And that’s not counting the “special friendship” the parents are supposed to have with their children. Parents are responsible and they are “leading” in a certain way – “do as I say” are the words uttered, usually more than not, because we all have our faults – “not has I do…” Kids; they want to have a lot of friends.

I talk to one of my “friends” on the phone just about every week, usually about the standard stuff of life, although with these last few years, since she and my father are getting up there in years, sometimes it’s light stuff, like what did you have for dinner, sometimes it’s heavier, like politics, (hardly ever about religion), sometimes it’s really heavy stuff, like where are the wills and trust papers. I would love to talk on the phone to my Dad more, but I usually write, in big type face, because he can’t hear very well at all, especially on the phone, he cannot see without some magnification of the letters. But we have to do and accept what we can.

So, I talk to my Mom on the phone. And sometimes in person (I arranged for some work time in Minnesota recently, working from the old homestead while helping getting the house winterized, rather than working from my office). My folks, they are not very big on email, so I usually print out things and send them in the good old USMail.
Sometimes we talk about things that happened long ago, like when I used to throw my baseball up on the roof, pretending to be Harmon Killebrew, who was a famous (to me at least, 573 home runs, Hall of Famer) baseball player. Or about my “glue cake”, so described because as a small child I found a picture of an Igloo cake in a cookbook of hers, but I didn’t pronounce it correctly. It became a birthday cake for one of my birthdays.

We talk about the old chalkboard at the top of the basement stairs, where we would do some math problems, while she cooked meals. We talk about my electrical shock as a very small child (I was trying to pull a cord for a fan out of the socket, and I got my little fingers around both of those prongs, before I got the darn thing out of the socket). We talk about my dangling a microphone down the clothes shoot into the basement, because I was trying to eavesdrop on my sister’s slumber party. We talk about her car accident, going to college; after she and Dad had raised 5 kids. We talk about her other car accident, where she ran into a deer, and got to bring the carcass home (I think my Dad quit deer hunting after that, since she was having better luck than he was). We talk about my duck hunting with my Dad, and we talk about the famous goose hunting trip to Canada, where my Dad, my Uncle, one of Dad’s friends, and I drove lots of hours, in order to lay in a cold pit in the middle of a wheat field among some goose decoys, “hunting”.

Sometimes we talk about much more recent things, like my daughter’s budding modeling career (she’s 13 years old) or my son’s experiences at the drug store where he works (customers in retail are so much fun- that’s sarcasm, by the way). We talk about the squirrels, or the people in her town. We talk about the people in my town. We talk about the people in Afghanistan, we talk about the people in Georgia (where my Dad’s heart attack occurred).

We don’t talk too much about our dreams and aspirations, oh, I certainly complain about not having enough time, so busy with life and all. I shouldn’t really complain at all, since there are many people that have no time, not any more, since they died in Iraq. Or maybe they have too much time, since they didn’t die in Iraq.

You see, that’s the problem, I figure, we don’t talk enough as a society any more, we twitter, we post, we email, we present, we pitch, we shout, we yell, we do talk… but we don’t listen much, now do we. One person talks, the other is supposed to listen.
But we don’t have time, we are too busy, we have other obligations… so this is one little obligation I decided some years back I would take on, partly because she (and my Dad) were getting older and I was the “distant” child, working on the “left” coast. My sisters all live very much nearby, but my brother and I are a very long plane ride from home. But mostly I did this because I wanted to find out more who my parents were. And not too much later from when I started this calling her every week or every other week, I realized it wasn’t such a thing, an obligation… It was pleasant conversation, with someone that I know well and regard with affection and trust. It was a time to talk to my friend, my Mom.

So, “reach out and touch someone”, as the old commercial used to say. And not only on Mother’s Day, which is the busiest time of the year on the phone lines, but on Sunday, any Sunday, or maybe Tuesday, yes, I like Tuesday, too, but I’m busy then, sure you’re busy, and I’m not? Maybe Twitter works for you, if your Mom is into that; perhaps email works, but something about us humans, we just love to talk, and like I say, not so much love for the listening part, but I’m working on that.

Maybe this new fangled Video Conferencing stuff will work for you, but you’d be surprised how much information can come across this thing we know by different terms and actions, like “dial” even though the dial has largely disappeared and most teenagers don’t know what those holes in the old phone sets are all about – or “give me a ring” even though the mechanical bells that “rang” have long since been displaced with the electronic beeps and tones, and on your cell phone, it will even play music when someone calls you. (My Mom’s mobile says “play ball”.)

The phone is connected to a wire which is connected to a CO (“see oh”) which is a Central Office, but the wire is sometimes referred to as a cable and it might be connected to a Cable Company at their Head End, which is kind of hard to explain. So is Octothorpe, that strange name for the # key, below the 9 and to the right of the 0 on the DTMF or “Touch-Tone” phone. It’s also called the tick-tack-toe, cross-hatch, hash, number, pound, and lord knows what else. The key below the 7 and to the left of the 0 is called “Star” – but that doesn’t hold a candle to Octothorpe… I know what DTMF means, I don’t think my Mom does. We’ve lost some of our terms with most people saying “What?” to “tip and ring”… or explain to your children why jacks are female and plugs are male, and if you don’t understand this, take a look at Michelangelo’s “Temptation and Fall”. And don’t get me started on acronym’s, what with CPE meaning customer provided equipment (AT&T) and company provided equipment (GTE) at total opposite ends of the spectrum, now it’s customer premises equipment; so I guess a CPE used to be a CPE or a CPE, oh my brain is hurting.

Still, don’t let technology get in the way, son. Call your mother.

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