One of the more interesting conversations I had in New York with the family was, oddly enough, about social networking. Mostly due to the fact that I had “connected” with some of the family I was seeing that day on Facebook, and was sharing my plans to be part of a Social Networking presentation later this year. The subject elicited a variety of opinions, as it always does in any group, let alone a multi-generational gathering like this.
Among this gathering was my father’s cousin, Philly. Now, Philly is older than my father by a couple of years, and I’m 40, so that should give you some idea of Philly’s age. He’s always been a bit of a character, quick to share a story or an opinion. Like many, he couldn’t understand “why anyone cares what you had for lunch”. I agreed with him on that, but tried to point out that there is a lot more than that.
Later in the day, Philly was sharing some details about growing up in the neighborhood where we were that day. He detailed for us how most of the family lived in the same couple of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, let alone all in the larger metro area. Being basically the first generation born in the US my grandparents and their siblings pretty much stayed right in the area they’d known their whole lives and their kids all grew up together. Over the next generation though, as more people in the family accumulated a bit more wealth, they started moving away. Families grew larger, and eventually began to disperse, first around the Tri-State area, and eventually out to Ohio, Florida, etc. and lost touch. That sense of community around the family started to get lost, and as a result, here I was seeing people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, meeting my college aged cousin for the very first time, and getting my first glimpse of other cousin’s who now had kids of their own.
I’m sure the story is familiar to many of you, but I couldn’t help but go back to the previous discussion about social networks as he was talking about the downside of the family becoming more wealthy and dispersed. When my family moved to Ohio in 1984, the options for keeping in touch with my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. were pretty limited. Frankly I have to admit, much to my embarrassment, it didn’t really happen.
Yet here we are in 2009, and I am getting updates from cousins, looking at photos they post of their kids and photos my uncle posted of his trip to Italy, etc. Almost as if we were back in Brooklyn getting together with the family. It’s not a full replacement, but it sure helps people stay connected more than they have been able to up until now.
Even Philly had to admit that maybe this would be a great reason to use social networking tools. It brings just a little bit of that old neighborhood feel to otherwise distant families.