El Dorado, Kansas

Who's In Your Circle?

Techies who live and work in the internet world like to think social networks are a relatively new invention. I suppose if you were born in 1990, it may seem like that. But I get specific on semantics. I know that VIRTUAL social networks are relatively new. Social networking goes back to the dawn of mankind.

High schools are a fantastic laboratory for designing social networks. You have all sorts of categories and classifications and cliques. There are jocks and nerds and dopers and goat-ropers and assorted other ways of defining people by what they do or how they act. These categories apply with limited accuracy and of course none of them are complete.

My own social network is not vast. The ol' Facebook friends list says I have 116 friends. These can also be divided into assorted categories and classifications and cliques. By the way, this behavior is absolutely normal. Behavioral scientists teach us that human beings instinctively try to categorize things. We strive to define objects (and people) by organizing them into groups of similar types. The result of all this is that we kind of live in the middle of a giant Venn diagram consisting of circles that define who we know.

My biggest circle, according to Facebook, would have to be family. I am one of four children and Dad was one of five. Mom was one of four, herself, so I have a lot of cousins. Now on Dad's side, there aren't a lot of Facebook users. However, on Mom's side every single one of my first cousins is a Facebook friend - that's seven names right there. And they have a number of children of their own, many of whom are also Facebook friends and there are spouses and so on. That's a few names to throw into a circle, right there.

The second biggest is harder to define without actually doing the work of sorting and it just isn't worth it. At one time, I guessed that my second biggest circle was Ottawa University classmates. But in the past year or so, that circle may have been overtaken by my El Dorado High School classmates. Beyond those circles it becomes less well-defined. I have a handful of Austin friends on Facebook and a few more that are general internet friends I have collected over the years.

One circle I have never made is one for co-workers. The writers I worked with at Dell had a pact. We consciously decided not to be Facebook friends so we could have a place to bitch about work without fearing reprisals. I have maintained that policy even with my new employer. I enjoy my co-workers. I do not 'Friend' them. And to be honest, I don't bitch about work that much. I'm not stupid and I know that things you set adrift on the internet can never be entirely obliterated.

As for those other circles, they aren't that well-defined either. By that I mean a lot of folks could easily belong to more than one circle. I can invent a number of categories in which a number of people overlap with other circles. For instance, if I made a circle of people I have acted in plays with, it would include Facebook friends from both the Ottawa University and El Dorado High School group. If I made a circle of former EHS debaters, I have a couple of friends who belong there. If I made a circle of former Ottawa University mission team members, there are several of those.

One of the more interesting possibilities would be a circle of women with whom I have had some limited degree of sexual contact - ie. at least making out. There are more names in that circle than I expected. And my ex-wife is not even on Facebook. Apparently, I stay in touch with most of the women with whom I ever exchanged saliva. What do you suppose that means?

Anyway, in playing this mental game, one of the things that struck home is how these circles link together and overlap. By far, the one key element that connects more of my Facebook friends than any other is El Dorado. My hometown connects all the EHS folks, of course, but also a great many of the family group. All of this makes perfect sense but I think it is instructive to realize the role geography plays in defining our circles of friends. El Dorado, for all the good and bad we associate with it, is part of the connection between myself and a great many of the people in my life.

It occurs to me that a small town, in its own way, is also a social network of sorts. We had our own status updates, messaging systems, and various ways of charting relationships back in the day. Even an introverted nerd like myself would occasionally receive a passed note. The young people with whom I work cannot imagine growing up without cell phones and internet. Since those are their primary tools for communicating with one another, they tend to assume that without them, it becomes almost impossible to communicate.

They seem to assume that social networks must be virtual.

In ninth grade, I experienced both my first date and my first kiss.

The fact that either occurred is a minor miracle since I was such an incredible dork in those days. (As opposed to today when my dorkiness is logarithmically even higher than 'incredible'). In the spring of that year - 1972 - I was fourteen. At that time, a lot of young ladies went through minor transformations in the spring around Easter Sunday. Families that were active in their church would put some effort into getting special outfits or improving their appearance for the holiday. On the Monday after Easter, I entered Mr. Richey's Algebra class and discovered that one of my female friends, Annette Marsh, to be specific, had been the recipient of a fairly extensive hair remodeling in honor of Easter. And when I saw her, I spontaneously (believe me, I was nowhere near suave enough to have thought this out) told her that her hair looked nice.

In retrospect, this unrehearsed, reflexive compliment was a fundamental turning point in my life.

Toward the end of class that day, I received a text message from Annette. And by 'text message' I mean a handwritten note on a piece of paper. She invited me to the Junior Music Club Dance. I was conflicted, of course. I mean, I liked Annette just fine and I was thrilled at the notion of being asked out on a date. But I was not a dancer. I still am not. Despite having actually preformed choreography in a couple of stage productions over the years, "dancer" is not a keyword that ever would have been hashtagged onto my status update.

As it turned out, Annette and I would be double-dating with Angie Moreland and her date who turned out to be Brian Miller. So we planned a gathering at the Marsh household on Sunday afternoon during which Brian and I would be taught to dance. That Sunday ended up being pretty fun. We did some dancing but we did a lot more joking around, riding bikes, and just generally enjoying a spring day in El Dorado. At the end of the session, when it was time for everyone to part company, Annette decided to walk me partway home. I think the idea there was to get out of sight of the front windows of the Marsh household.

So we walked along Pine Avenue for a couple of blocks with me pushing my bike and Annette walking alongside me. Then, at the corner of Denver and Pine, we parted. But before we did, we kissed.

Okay, I really don't remember the exact nature of that kiss. I do know that it occurred some distance from her house partway along my route home. My best guess is Denver and Pine, but for all I know it could have been Atchison. But I do know it was one of the most awesome moments of my adolescence. Later, Annette and I would spend more time together and do some more kissing and I can distinctly remember one evening weeks later when we were pretty much making out on the porch swing when Marjorie, her mom, took exception to the process.

But for those who question the power of El Dorado's non-virtual social networking, I offer this recollection. On Monday morning at El Dorado Junior High, by third period a lot of people seemed to know that Annette and I had kissed. Apparently someone saw us and asked Annette about it in Driver's Ed and then it went viral. In the non-virtual sense, of course.

And I didn't mind.

It is amusing to me that things have sort of come full circle. El Dorado was my first social network and it makes up a large chunk of my current one, even though I live over 500 miles away. One thing that has changed is that I am communicating with people I didn't spend a lot of time with in high school. Apparently on the internet, I don't appear to be as big a dork as I was in my high school days.

Or maybe nerds are just cooler now.