Left: Wes and I in Cinque Terre 2013, and right: Wes and I in Camden 2016.
Our ways parted on a dusty train platform in the Mediterranean. They: to Rome; we: to a rock in the bay on which we would spend the rest of the afternoon, reading (Gone Girl, since you asked).
We had spent a mere 48 hours in each others’ company, yet it was a goodbye filled with regret, for we each knew how special a 48 hours they had been.
Three years passed.
And then, our paths re-covened. Him without his companion and me without mine, we rekindled a friendship next to a black phone box outside 141 Moorgate, London.
It was, as they say, as though mere moments had passed. Though then, Wes from Ohio had been a Sophomore in college and I a tender fresher, nothing much now had changed. As they so magically can with some people, our companionship resumed as though it had been merely on pause.
Were this 1986, a travelling stranger would have stayed just that: a stranger. Any meeting mid-commute might have been the happy accident of an infinitesimal chance.
But this was no serendipity: this was the power of social media.
In some ways, there’s something far less exciting about a planned rendezvous with an old friend. But then, when it comes to chance meetings, novels and films paint an extraordinarily unrealistic picture.
In reality – if there is any hope of seeing someone you actually really like again – a lot of that magic must be sadly removed.
And so it was Facebook, and not serendipity, that aligned mine and Wes’ paths once more.
I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. Yes: it would have been simply wild to have bumped into him at random one day after work…but come on: he was on a 36 hour lay-over and I would have otherwise been embroiled in my daily commute. Besides, would we even have remembered each other clearly enough to stop dead were we to spy each other?
Life’s a bitch and – for all its warts – social media has stepped in to reassign us some much-needed magic.
“put a name to a handle and a face to a profile picture”
How many ghosts from our past criss-cross nearby; miss us by a moment; pass our office building 5 minutes before lunch? Probably a lot. It’s a small world, and the beauty of Twitter, Facebook et al. is that it’s gotten just that little bit smaller.
Journalists and authors Laura Jane Williams and Emma Gannon have paved a pathway from this very concept. IRL panel, which brings women who would ordinarily interact only through the medium of mentions and retweets, aims to actualise connections we make online. Having attended one of these meetings, I have to say that it works extraordinarily well: putting a name to a handle and a face to a profile picture is a great icebreaker and a quite unbeatable way to network.
Far from alienating us from the outside world, social media has in fact brought us closer together than ever before.
Perhaps we as a generation are less likely to have a chat with our neighbour over the garden fence (if indeed, any of us can afford such luxury at all). Perhaps, too, we are engrossed in our smartphones on the commute rather than in those around us.
And yet we are more likely to the power of a thousand to connect with interesting and/or attractive strangers than our parents and grandparents before us.
Besides, who are we kidding? A commute in 1956 (or indeed, 1999), was not a buzzing metropolis of warming conversation and camaraderie. Rather, it was a rustling mass of newspapers used – as we use smartphones now – as a form of escapism from the task at hand. The one difference in sentiment was that then, none of us were connected with anything but the black and white words in front of us.
Now, we are socialising from waking to sleeping, even if it is silent.
I, with my voracious need for connection with other humans, my media ambitions and an American friend I met in Cinque Terre, am delighted with social media rather more often than I am disgusted with it. It is a powerful tool suited to us as a species because it is instantaneous and easy (unlike, sadly, letter-writing).
It does not totally eradicate romance, it merely reassigns, prolongs and accommodates its return. And its ability to do that is a power we could all do with harnessing.