Do you have face friends or Facebook friends?

Published 12:24 am Friday, September 4, 2009

I grew up in a small West Alabama town. It wasn’t exactly Mayberry, but it was pretty close.

In the early 80s, the Internet was still just a bunch of blips on some college main frame computer.

There were no cell phones. My family had just rid itself of the party line. Our community had just been hooked up to cable.

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There was little crime and few headaches, it seemed.

Sounds ideal? Well for a 12-year-old going through puberty, Carrollton was not so much idyllic as it was boring.

Not much happened. We had no movie theater. The town had no fast food restaurant. We didn’t even have a town drunk like Otis in Mayberry. Our county was dry.

And in a town of less than 1,000 people, you could count the number of friends you had on one hand, maybe two.

Maybe that is why everyone knew so much about each other. The only real form of entertainment most of the time was talking.

In the post office, in the grocery store, on front porches and back porches people could be spotted detailing their daily lives through chatting. People connected.

For a pre-teen all that talking was pretty stifling. All that connecting was limiting. Forget Mayberry. There was a much bigger playground in which to explore and have fun out there in the real world.

Flash forward 30 years. The Internet has long escaped the university laboratory. Cell phones are no longer a luxury.

The ability to connect with almost anyone in the world in mere seconds is no longer a vision of the World’s Fair — it is a reality.

So if we have all of these wonderful devices with which to connect, than why does it seem we are less connected as a society today than we were 30 years ago?

I joined Facebook with a little prodding from a co-worker a few years ago. At first, I didn’t think much of it. Occasionally I would check my homepage to find out who requested that I become their Facebook friend. By doing so I gave them access to see the photos and messages that I posted about myself.

Slowly it became this obsession to peek in on the lives of my friends unannounced. After all, I gave them access to do the same. Forget knocking, just come right on in and see what I have posted for you to read.

To date I have 168 friends. I love it — check on them most days.

But there are times when I have this nagging sense that something is missing. To tell you the truth, I know little more about my Facebook friends today than when I connected with them online.

Yes, it is thrilling to suddenly find a long-lost high school friend or a former co-worker.

And yes, I do share pictures of my new son with those friends who need a cute baby fix.

But I rarely contact any of them face to face. The whole process seems detached — like reading notes posted on your front door that begin with the words, “Sorry I missed you …”

With the Internet and cell phones, it seems as if the world is going at such a fast pace that true face-to-face contact has been replaced with e-mails, visual voicemail and Twitter messages.

When we are together, most of my friends stay buried in their Blackberries, iPhones and laptops. Life is a constant stream of text message beeps it seems.

It makes we wonder if the boring Mayberry days of sitting on the porch and talking with your friends is not so boring after all.

That’s the true face-to-face contact that seems to be missing.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at