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On the Fourth of July

Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Peacemaking Identity Series
Copyright: July 2000. Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata. "Fair Use" encouraged
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Names have been changed to protect reality and social identity.

School Friends sent me a message to check the Bulletin Board from Urban High. Kind of a call to celebrate old times? So I responded, and they sent me the password I had forgotten, and, of course, I didn't recognize a single name.

Now, that might be because there are almost no names I remember from high school. I remember Theresa Jones, but I don't think she went to Urban High. I remember Linda Smith, but I don't think she went to Urban either. And then there was Beth, Beth, . . . what was her name? But that was the early fifties. These people writing messages are from the late sixties. No one from the fifties is sending messages on bulletin boards.

"I enrolled in the first year of Urban's existence." Wow, it had been around quite a while when I went there in '49.

OK, so there are people out there from the fifties. Somewhere. But they're isolated, just a message in a bottle, floated out to sea. No relationships. I'm normal.

Curiosity or a restless mouse led me to "just one more message." What did I think I'd find? Beth? I didn't even know her till the valedictorian was announced, and she beat me by a tiny margin, and got the Honor Scholarship. I saw her once in college, (they gave me a scholarship, too) but I don't even know what she majored in, except that it wasn't physics or math or chemistry, with any of us. Or even engineering, because that was only Lutie. . . .

Oh, look at this! Here's someone from the class of '63, asking where his classmates are. Now, really! Do you have any idea what the probability is of someone from your class finding this message, and recognizing you? Restless mouse just thought to hit the NEXT button for fun. What's this? Sally just answered him: "Hello, class of '63 answering. Yes, Henry, I remember you." Well, that'll teach me! But the messages are a week and a half apart. What makes you think, Sally, that Henry will ever come back to the board to find your message?

Restless mouse: Just one more NEXT. Surely, Henry never came back. WRONG. Two days later Henry answered Sally! "What do you remember about me?"

NEXT.

Enter Michael. Michael got down his Squirrely Urban Yearbook. Good Heavens, I must have had one of those! Michael just returned from Washington, D.C., where he visited the Vietnam Memorial to look up the name of another classmate of '63, Gary, who had been a very good friend of his.

How neat that Michael remembered Gary so many years later! My class was more than ten years ahead of those who served in Vietnam. But here were kids from my old school, remembering friends who died in Vietnam. But now this thread has got to end. NEXT.

Whoa! The very next day Henry answered Michael: "I'm sorry but I don't remember you." I knew it. You can't have virtual relationships. There's something weird about communicating this way. It just isn't, well, normative.

BUT

"Gary was my friend!" Henry had been to the Vietnam Memorial, looked up Gary, too, and had taken a picture for Gary's family. "Please tell me what you have been doing for these past 25 years."

THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE! It must be an advertisement for making phone calls long distance to old buddies. NEXT.

Two days later, Michael wrote: "I doubt if I was all that memorable in those days. My closest friend was Gary. . ." and brought Henry up to date in five or so well recounted paragraphs. He regrets that he has never heard of any Urban High Reunions, until Sally clued him into School Friends. There's a reunion coming up soon for his class, and he wants to try to make it back.

NEXT. Two days later Henry wrote to Michael: "I would like to know how Gary was killed. Could you tell me as much as you remember?" NEXT.

Two days later, Michael responded with records and reports, clearly reconstructed from more than one source. If Sartre's Hell in No Exit was "other people," so, too, is Paradise. "Other People who care," even thirty years later, across a new century, and through their shared memories in a public space. Gary must have been a wonderful friend. Perhaps this was a fitting Fourth of July, after all.

Hyperactive mouse slowed down. Too much that's real here. That's not normative. We're supposed to lose our skills of empathy to flame one another with witty irony. But there's no irony here, except in a war that took a very good friend from two men long ago. N . . .E . . .X . . .T. . .

Three weeks later Michael wrote to Henry again, sharing information about Gary's family, his father, his siblings, wondering how they might find them. Then came "It's a definite. I will not be able to attend the reunion. Too many conflicts. . ." followed by a request for Henry's "real e-mail address." "Much of this can be discussed off-line . . . Don't want to clutter up this forum with stuff most others probably are not remotely interested in."

With a kind of nostalgia I clicked NEXTone last time. Yes, there it was. Henry's "real e-mail address." Hesitant to let them drift off to their private sphere, I linked to each of their profiles. Henry had left his blank. Michael had entered this quote: "'Tis easier to receive forgiveness than permission."

May our independence and interdependence be ever so gentle.

Happy Fourth of July