When he's out and about near his Denver home, former Broncos quarterback John Elway has come up with a novel way to travel incognito—he wears his own jersey. "I do that all the time here," the 50-year-old Hall of Famer told me. "I go to the mall that way. They know it's not me because they say there's no way Elway would be wearing his own jersey in the mall. So it actually is the safest thing to do."
In trying to think about what the future will look like for myself and my family, I was trying to think of what significant changes have come about over the last four years for our society and culture, and how we've responded to them. While the economy and the job market are clearly issues now, so is the proliferation of social media across all segments of our society. What started with MySpace is now being carried on by Facebook and others, and the number of participants has grown exponentially.
This fact was not lost on me when Michaela passed away in July. A benefit was organized to help Leslie with expenses, and a Facebook page was quickly created. This helped the word get out to numerous people who otherwise would have not been informed. Lots of messages and comments expressing sympathy and support were generated.
I compare this to the throng of people who lined up at the funeral home for visitation, and the conversations Leslie and I had with many of them. As much as the online exposure helped to get the word out, and helped those separated by the miles to express their sorrow, the face-to-face interaction seemed more meaningful and memorable.
So as social media has the power to connect and mobilize us, it paradoxically adds to our collective isolation and separation, especially from those who feel that an email or a tweet can somehow be any kind of replacement for a warm embrace and tender expressions of love, concern, or sympathy.
What I also find intriguing is how much one can structure their online appearance to represent something not at all resembling their real emotional condition, and in fact communicate in a way that their true feelings are only apparent to certain people. The social media researcher Danah Boyd identified some of these trends in an August blog post.
Dubbing this practice "Social Steganography", Ms. Boyd explained how certain groups, in this case teenagers, engage in "communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens". She used the example of the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian, and how a hypothetical teenager used it to convey a message:
We've all got problems - My impression is that most people that have a group of close friends do not want their particular set of circumstances out on the Internet for all to see. One friend of mine had a long-term marriage come to an end this year; a former co-worker uprooted everything and everyone for supposedly greener pastures, only to return within weeks. I haven't spoken with these people in years, yet I know about these things because of Facebook. This helped to bring me to a true realization of the potential power of social networking to connect, as well as to conceal.
Her mother wrote her a note saying that she seemed happy which made her laugh. But her closest friends knew that this song appears in the movie when the characters are about to be killed. They reached out to her immediately to see how she was really feeling.
This leads me back to my current set of circumstances. I've made a mess of my life in a lot of ways, and need to make some changes. Knowing the path is not the same as walking it, however, and I'm frequently reminded of my shortcomings by seemingly well-intentioned silence and avoidance on the part of others.
I'm praying for the courage to face the fear of rejection, failure, and enmity, and move in the direction that I feel is the best for myself and my family, both old and new. This will hopefully culminate with a wedding in early spring, and the promise of building a life with Leslie as a pair through strength, not separation. I hope that somehow I can prove to myself and to others that this is much better than being alone, or by engaging in relationships that may have esoteric benefits, but are otherwise hollow and brittle.
Notice how the camera zooms in ever so slowly, until at the end of the song we're right in his face. The feeling and the anguish of the lyric is there right in front of us. Is this something that a tweet can substitute for?
This song came out during my senior year of high school. It carries a lot of meaning in retrospect; if we had voted on a "class song" like they do today, it could have been this one.