Story posted November 03, 2009
Author: Alison Bennie, Editor
I realized recently why living a kind of public life online – through Facebook, other networking sites, even cookie-enabled browsers – doesn’t totally freak me out: it’s because I grew up in a town of 500 people that was not just a suburb of somewhere else, but was 500 people pretty much in the middle of nowhere. After having endured adolescence in a place where my every activity, relationship, and opinion was not only common knowledge but part of the actual news of the day, I don’t get too exercised over the idea that a couple of hundred people can pretty much guess how I voted in today’s election. Or know where I live, the names of my children, and what kind of music I like.
It doesn’t bother me that my co-workers know that I love my husband, that I stress about deadlines, or that I get a lump in my throat when I walk into the empty bedrooms of my college-age kids. And I don’t mind, either, that the people I grew up with in that small town will note the many ways that I am not the person I was at eighteen. Or that they can see the photos that prove it. Would I bring any of this up in a conversation over the water cooler or drag out a whole photo album at the high school reunion? Probably not.
But here is why I am not afraid of any of it: because while knowing everything about each other can create a few scary scenarios (identity theft comes to mind), knowing enough is a requirement. It is what connects us. Empathy is a powerful human emotion, but it doesn’t work well in the abstract.
We need to think of real people who need our help before we are motivated to do so. We need to know people who are different from us before we see that they matter just as much and deserve what we deserve. The everyday details we share – what we are making for dinner, what chores we have planned for Saturday morning, or how much we loved the sunset – are part of what makes us human beings just working it out, and that is OK. Connections that change opinions, even lives, have been forged on much less.
Bowdoin just completed a $250 million campaign that exceeded its goal and raised $293 million. I believe that its success is in large part due to the genuine connectedness that Bowdoin graduates feel to this college and consequently to each other and to its future students. When we ask these people about their favorite Bowdoin memories, they very often involve things like meals, music, Saturday morning routines, and a sunset or two. They always involve people.
I have friends who say if they read one more status update about mundane stuff, they will scream. I say, it just makes us all neighbors. You don’t always have to chat over the fence, but when you need something, those are the people who are more likely than anybody to help. So, go ahead, connect.