Location: New York City
So one of the things I love about being in New York City (aside from the oversized hot pretzels available at every corner and the many languages you hear and ethnicities you see from one block to the next) is the ability to walk everywhere. I love to walk, and Manhattan’s city planner had geographically-challenged people like me in mind when designing the city grid. It is so easy to get around and figure it out and I love making my way around the city. It is also a good way to observe and measure social norms. Walking the streets on this visit, I noticed that it is the rare person who makes eye contact with me. Most people, especially the tech-savvy millennials who fill the sidewalks, are bent over their phones.
It is tempting to lament all of the evils of social media – Trump’s twitter account is Exhibit A in what is harmful about folks who forego human interaction for middle of the night 280-character rants. But this is actually a post about the plus side of technological advances. It is something I have observed for a while and this trip has me reflecting on how there is a definite upside to social media. Eliza got together with her friend, Hallie, on her last night in the city, and it is all thanks to social media. Technology – in the form of snapchat and Instagram, in this case – gets the credit not only for the New York City get-together, but for the underlying friendship. This is a girl with whom Eliza would surely have lost touch had there been no technology to keep them connected, and it is equally likely that neither Eliza nor Hallie would have realized that they are each in the city at the same time were it not for social media.
Eliza met Hallie in eighth grade at a Kallah she attended through NFTY, the North American Federation for Temple Youth. The way these quarterly gatherings are set up is that all of the participating teens from the Reform temples in a region gather in the host city and families from that city’s temple house kids for the weekend. The Southern Area region includes North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and parts of Florida and Tennessee. Hallie lives in Jacksonville, Florida. She was one of ten girls who stayed at our house when the Kallah was in Charlotte in the spring of 2015. That weekend forged a friendship that withstood miles and years and remains strong to this day. A subset of those girls and a few others created a group chat, always requested to room together at NFTY events, and even met up in Florida last year for a Memorial Day reunion.
All of the girls are now in college, spread out across the United States. But they root each other on and support their various pursuits, weigh in on relationships and enjoy ongoing inside jokes. The longest-running one is the time I inadvertently put bath salts (thinking it was a container of gourmet salt) in the macaroni and cheese I made for them and they all claimed I tried to get them high.
Hallie and Eliza enjoyed catching up together and sending pics to the rest of the group. They get that they have something special. “We just all really connected,” Hallie said. “We clicked so well.” Eliza thinks that the fact that they did not live in the same cities actually enhanced the friendship. “We talked every day in our group chat. These were my closest friends.” I love that these girls have stayed in touch, and I just don’t see that happening without social media. It allows them to keep up with each other in a way that they would not have otherwise. “It is so special,” Hallie says. “What are the odds that we would still be such good friends?”
I agree, and I hope it sees them through the next stages of their lives. I have a dear friend from my first job out of college, and now her daughter is a good friend of Eliza’s. Maybe these girls will gather their own daughters one day and introduce the bath salts tradition to the next generation.