I am 29 years old, and that means a few things.
At one point, I seriously rocked shoulder pads. I have a profound respect for all things 1980. There was a time when Matchbox 20 was my favorite band. I had to wait until 2006 to see the Cards win a World Championship. Unfortunately, I’ll be 30 in a month in a half.
And most notably, I went through high school without a cell phone and college without Facebook.
Am I going to go on a rant here? That is not the intention, but probably yes. Will I seriously date myself in the process? In that case, allow me to break out my rickety old man pants.
There is a definite situation at hand, and I’d like to sum it all up by stating that people don’t know how to treat people anymore. And while ultrarunning certainly attracts the exception to that statement and comprise the majority of my friends and acquaintances associated with the sport, the whole thing is growing beyond anyone’s control. People have actually heard of running 100 miles in the mountains. People have actually seen pictures of Killian and Tony K or Ellie and Anna in magazines. And people certainly have something to say about it.
Good. Great. Awesome, actually! Opinions are always welcome, different viewpoints are encouraged, and healthy debate is what drives us all towards progress. But all too often, I encounter legitimate bashing, trashing and smashing, which always elicits the same response from me, “I mean, WHO SAYS THAT?!”
I myself have been a victim of backhanded trash talking online; I’ve been misrepresented, misquoted and misinterpreted. And while it sucks, it’s nothing compared to what the real stars of our sport are going through. Have you ever perused the comments on irunfar (before Bryon or Meghan get to them and enforce that shit)? Worse yet, have you ever heard of letsrun? It’s insane. Absolutely insane.
You know what else is insane? Having a coffee with someone whose nose is buried in their phone the entire time, and possibly even answers a phone call.
You know what else is insane? Being more concerned about “checking in” to where you are, rather than checking it out.
You know what ELSE is insane? Finding out your only brother is engaged on Facebook.
Here is my point:
What J Timbs and I are trying to say is, GET OFF YOUR ####ING iPHONE! No, but what I’m really trying to say is: Ayo, I am a person who exists and has feelings and emotions and appreciates real human connection. My Facebook contains images of me, not me. My Twitter handle is only a very millifraction of the thoughts consuming my actual, tangible brain. My blog is just some shit I wanted to remember and write about. Unless we have physically met, spoken and hugged, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. But when we do, please realize that you are sharing a moment with me, in real physical form. Please do not value a photo on Instagram over the minutes of my time I am giving you. Please join me in living in the moment, rather than documenting it. Please question me, get to know me, rather than think you have me all figured out based on one sentence you read somewhere online. Please learn how to be human again.
Here’s my theory on this:
I am part of a very distinct nano-generation who has gone through the two periods of life most responsible for social development having to complete said development entirely face to face. Computers weren’t even “a thing” until the end of middle school, and all I really remember about that is breaking a fucking axle when I was trying to ford the river EVERY. TIME. The internet wasn’t really rocking until high school, and even that was dial-up and everyone knew the CD-Rom encyclopedia you got when you bought a Hewlett-Packard was better for research anyway. My junior year, I bought a pager so that I could type 55378008 to my friends (hint: look at that upside down); although I soon realized it really just served as a tracking device for my parents. I got a cell phone for Christmas my senior year, but don’t get too excited. It’s greatest feature was “Snake.”
Point is, if you wanted to meet with your friends, you had to get on the phone or (gasp!) walk to their houses and make legitimate plans. You spent time together. When you went out, you saved your photos preciously because you only had so many before the film ran out, and it cost money to develop. You shared time together, rather than sharing the evidence. You were only friends with people you had legitimately met and had contact with.
Furthermore, if you didn’t like someone, there was a whole host of things you could do to make their life miserable, including, but not limited to: getting in a fight, TPing their house, passing notes making fun of them or making them sit alone at lunch. All of these are terrible, no doubt, but the reach only went so far. There was no, say, network of billions worldwide that could get in on “the fun.” And if you wanted to say something, for all intents and purposes, you had to say it to their face… or at least to a face that would inevitably tell the intended face. And you had to use YOUR name and YOUR likeness. There was no sk8ergrl to hide behind.
I took that neon green Nokia, to which I’d glued little tiny rhinestones to the buttons, off to college with me and it was certainly helpful for making plans and calling home for free. (Family Plan FTW). Mind you, you still had to CALL me if you wanted to make plans. Text messaging was like 20 cents per and there was no way I was paying for that shit. While I eventually upgraded to a color screen flip variety, I never owned a phone with internet capabilities. Besides, all I’d use that for would be to check game scores, but instead I just asked someone. Anyone. (Gasp!) a stranger.
By senior year, Gmail came out and I was beginning to use that a little more regularly for things beyond school, work and applying for jobs. It became a legitimate way to inform people of happenings and I was part of many an “email chain.” Here was born my disdain for the Reply All. I believe it was this year that I also signed up for a MySpace account, although I had no idea why I was doing it and found the whole thing quite creepy. Then when Facebook came out only a few months later, my mind was blown. Why do I need all this shit?
Subsequently, I went through what is arguably the most important “coming into one’s own” phase of my life, solely interacting with people face to face. If I didn’t know the answer to something, I asked a person. I had to leave my room if I wanted to “connect” and “make friends.” I took a few photos here and there. I documented things I wanted to remember by hand in a scrapbook. And the rest of my time was spent living my life. I never had a smartphone, I never texted, I found the new social networks to be creepy and Chat Rooms were for losers.
Sure, many folks my age have jumped head first into the new age of digital connection and have no qualms nor questions about how the way they behave as a fundamental human being has changed. Many folks older have done the same. But I am in a weird place. On one hand, I love the way Facebook and Twitter and my iPhone and the likes have allowed me to stay in touch with family and friends. I love the way it allows me to share my passion for ultrarunning with people all over the country. I love how it helps me get my writing out to the masses. I honestly have no idea how I ever survived without the Google Maps App. I work at a digital ad agency, for chrissakes. But on the other hand, it deeply angers me when someone pays more attention to their phone than the person in front of them. I hate being put on call waiting. I have a limit on how far our conversation can go via text, and I’ll never understand why when I eventually just call you, you don’t answer and then send me a text asking why I called. I honestly think about every single image and every single word I tweet, post or otherwise share. Will someone possibly interpret it the wrong way? Could it be hurtful or negatively affect someone else? Is it my best grammar or is it the most effective way to say that? Why am I even posting this anyway? I honestly let every single letter and every little pixel sit in the queue before I hit send, and I often edit or delete entirely. In short, I think about what I’m saying because I deeply understand that once I put it out there, I’m never fully getting it back. And my reach is now further and deeper than I ever could have imagined.
The sad part is, I honestly believe that Social Networking has become such an integral part of most of our lives that people don’t even think twice, and they certainly don’t analyze it all the way I have. While I am appalled at groups of college girls around a table, all on their iPhones, they likely don’t find it rude because it’s just the way things are now. While I find it horribly strange that the brother of mine shares news of engagement and arrival in St. Louis on Facebook (before calling my dad and I who were waiting at the airport to pick him up), he likely sees it as a great tool for communication. And for all intents and purposes, it worked, and at the end of the day, my happiness at either situation was not adversely affected. But my fear is that people are not taking the time to fully understand the implications of their opinions not being shared solely with the person. When you write on a wall or leave a comment, it’s seen and interpreted by many others. And it’s documented FOREVER. If only the entire world had a Bryon and Meghan, but alas, it doesn’t.
If you, yourself, believe that you may have lost a bit of touch with your humanity or need a refresher course on what it means to be a truly good person, I’d invite you to take 19 minutes of your day to listen to this. It’s Bob Costas’s eulogy at Stan Musial’s funeral, who was not only one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, but considered one of the all time greatest men by those that knew him and the city that loved him deeply. I love this, in particular:
“(Thanks to Stan) We understood that it’s more important to be appreciated than to be glorified; to be respected than to be celebrated; to be understood and loved than to be idolized; and that friendship is more important than fame.” –Bobby C
In this case, let’s stay in touch on Facebook, please tweet your race updates, we’ll all share beautiful, inspiring photos of mountains we should all climb. I’ll continue to write this blog, you continue to write yours and comments are always welcome. Text me, bro. But for the love of all things holy, look up.
Understand that it’s more important to be regarded than to be retweeted; to be legitimately well liked rather than “liked”; to go actually hang out than to go viral; and that friendship can never be truly formed by clicking a button.