Sunday, January 10, 2010

Suburban Archaeology #8: Social Networking Is the New Morning Coffee

From my childhood I can easily recall morning gab sessions between my mother and her neighborhood girlfriends over coffee in our kitchen. Those gals would pop over, hair in curlers and no makeup, after all the husbands had headed off to work and launch right into tales of neighborhood gossip and trade recipes for the evening's dinner. The gals would leave, my mother would roll quickly into makeup and an outfit and I would be carted off to school. The moments after that are unimportant to the story, because in that short hour between Dad leaving and me getting into the car for delivery, a whole cultural phenomenon had occurred. A way of life that my wife and others today will never know beyond their own childhood memories.

I recall my father enjoying a tranquility-inducing pipe with coffee and the morning newspaper at the table while I would partake in a big bowl of cereal. Every so often, I would receive over-the-paper winks and “I love you's” as a gesture that he was there and aware of me. Occasionally, I would receive the comics page as a way to replicate my Dad's morning routine. The energy at the table was relaxed, unhurried and pleasurable. It wasn't long in my life before my Dad would scrap this routine for a long commute out of the far-removed suburb where we ultimately settled; an unusually long commute even for the 1980s.

Today, the current parental generation is involved in a much different series of routines and social habits. Rapid-fire exchanges on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have replaced the morning coffee gab sessions between the galpals. Devices like the iPhone have replaced the gentleman's casual routine of reading the morning paper at the family breakfast table before heading off to work. The convenience of technology; long, exhausting commutes and the pressures of the two income household with it’s hurried pace of contemporary lifestyles have created this tremendous cultural shift in our abilities to gather momentarily or to casually linger.

It's not that people and families don't get together anymore or stay connected, we just get together in different ways. In some ways, this new style of connectivity has helped to connect us even more. With moving away from the hometown now the norm, online social media has helped gals “have coffee” together from 1,000 miles away. Utilities like Skype have helped traveling Dads and grandparents stay connected to the kids from anywhere in the world. Phone applications like those for Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal allow Dads to be informed on-the-go of changes in the world and in their careers. Technological improvements have even allowed some Dads (like myself) to work from the home and never miss a beat of what's going on in the family; a luxury my Dad could've only dreamed of. Excuse me while I go Tweet that.

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