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The Tangled Webs Social Media Weaves

A few years ago, I got a friend request on Facebook from a blogger.  When I looked at our mutual friends, I saw my cousin’s name pop up on her list.  I wrote the blogger to ask how they knew each other, and she wrote me back that she had just written Tam to ask how we knew each other.  And the world became a little smaller.

I’m sure there have been strange overlaps prior to this point.  Connections that we didn’t know existed between two people and a mutual third.  But Facebook spelled it out: it’s a small world.  Honestly, the smallness of it isn’t always comfortable.

yarn

Image: Michael Mol via Flickr

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Yesterday, I was editing a post on BlogHer, a cautionary tale on using images on your blog. (Uh, if you haven’t read what happened to this blogger, you really should.  Because I see illegally used images on your blogs all the time when I’m reading.  Please be careful.  And kind.)  I squinted at the name of the artist whose image had been stolen: Marian Osher.  She was my childhood art teacher.

I used to take art classes in her basement, carrying my supplies in an orange Nike box.

I think of her studio every time I see a kneaded eraser.

I followed the writer’s link to Marian’s website, and contacted her via email to send her a much belated thank you note for those childhood art classes.  It had been over 30 years since I first walked down her basement steps.  Isn’t that crazy?  To suddenly see her name pop up in a BlogHer article?

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One time, I was standing at a BlogHer party (yes, I went into Sparklecorn for a whole 10 minutes!) when a woman came up to me and said, “you look so familiar.”  We started playing Jewish geography, and it turned out that we had gone to sleepaway camp together.  Our cabins had been next to one another.  I once kicked her soccer ball down the hill on purpose.

Ooops.

We reconnected and have been friends since. (Hi, Jodi!)

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A man started following me on Twitter a few months ago.  He came over from a tech post that I wrote for an online magazine, and he effusively tweeted how much he loved it.  I recognized him immediately: he was the husband of a woman I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 10 years because she is pure evil.  Like totally distilled, absolutely pure evil.  He clearly had no clue who I was or that I had ever crossed paths with his evil wife.  Did I mention that she’s evil?

On the other hand, many years ago, a woman started following me on Twitter, and she turned out to be a long-lost high school friend who hadn’t recognize me at first.  I only knew who she was because she had an unusual name.  We ended up meeting for tapas and catching up.

So it works both ways.

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What is the point of all of this?  Nothing except to marvel at the way connections unravel from a yarn web.  We all have stories like this from social media.  What is yours?

cross-posted on BlogHer

17 comments

1 A.M.S. { 02.13.14 at 8:22 am }

I used to sign up for international pen pals in middle school and had contacts in about six different countries for a year or two. A couple of years ago, I was stunned to get a Facebook friend request from one of them, a good thirty years after our correspondence had ended! But, I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those six degrees of separation contacts before.

2 a { 02.13.14 at 8:48 am }

A girl I went to one high school with went to grade school with a girl I went to a different high school with, and I saw a comment from girl 1 on a post from girl 2. And someone else I vaguely knew (she was the sister of a guy I went to grade school with, but we all needed friends for Mafia Wars) had comments from my 2nd grade teacher. So, those are my social media reconnects.

In real life, though, I moved 300 miles to a small town where I knew nobody (except my in-laws). But it turned out that my mom’s friend’s daughter lived on the next block, and my BIL’s friend was the priest at the church in town. It is a very small world.

3 loribeth { 02.13.14 at 8:49 am }

I have a couple of those stories. A comment from a former coworker, L. showed up under the post of K., a FB friend I met 10 years ago through our pg loss support group. I e-mailed K. & said “OK, how do you know L??” Turns out they’ve known each other forever & used to coach soccer together! Eventually, L. recognized me on K’s feed & sent me a friend request, & I had to answer the “How do you know K?” question. She hadn’t known about my loss before & was practically in tears over it the next time I saw her. It is nice to be back in touch with her, though. 🙂 I have generally shyed (sp?) away from becoming FB friends with my coworkers, but former coworkers, I am OK with.

Another story: Being into family history & genealogy, I joined a FB group for the small Minnesota town where my grandfather came from. Several of my relatives on my mom’s side of the family are also members. A while back, a new member joined the group, A., & she psoted some stories & photos about her uncle, a jockey who raced in the Kentucky Derby in the 1970s, and her dad, who owned horses & is still racing them in Winnipeg. The dad’s name sounded awfully familiar for some reason, & then it hit me — this was my cousin!! on my dad’s side. Her grandmother was my dad’s older half-sister; her mom was my dad’s niece. Both her parents grew up in the same general area where mine had, and where the town of the group was. I immediately messaged her & said, “Umm, I think we’re related!” and we are now FB friends. We haven’t seen each other in years but used to play together at family reunions & such when we were kids. We got married within a week of each other in 1985 — I didn’t remember her married name, which is why I didn’t realize it was her at first.

The funny thing is that because she also spent a lot of time in that area growing up, she is FB friends with a lot of people who are also friends with my cousins on my mom’s side. She posted photos of an event she attended in the town where my grandparents lived, and there was one of my grandparents’ neighbours’ daughter, with whom I grew up playing Barbie dolls.

The world is smaller than we think.

4 Jodi { 02.13.14 at 9:18 am }

You kicked my soccer ball down the hill on purpose? Are you sure? I have no memory of this.

5 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 02.13.14 at 9:45 am }

I don’t have too many of those odd connections with people that I’ve known a terribly long time, but there have been a couple of Facebook situations where I’ve wondered how two of my friends know each other here in my current city. I haven’t been here all that long, so it just doesn’t surprise me all that much that there would be people who know each other from different “circles” (a friend I was in school with here was friends with the guy who led trivia at the bar I used to frequent. Other than the fact that they seem unlikely friends, socially/politically, etc., it doesn’t surprise me at all that they went to high school together. This is a small town.). I just don’t know enough people here well enough that I would feel weird that so-and-so knows this other person– obviously, they know so-and-so because I have no reason to think that people of a certain age *wouldn’t* have crossed paths here. There’s limited social opportunities, so it just makes sense somehow.

I have the luck (luck? I don’t know.) of having had a pretty unique experience in my 20s of basically living at a certain coffee shop for 10 years, where the same 200-ish people came and went over the years, and about 100 of them I’d consider to be close enough to be Facebook friends with. And basically, most of us are friends with each other, though there is the occasional outsider among some friends who stuck around long enough to be close to this person or that who I might not know as well as the rest.

Anyhow, at one point we did the “Kevin Bacon” game of who had slept with whom among the coffee shop patrons (there were several contestants for the role of Kevin Bacon, to be honest). And after doing the whole “she slept with him who slept with her who slept with him AND her”, we’d basically managed to connect the entire coffee shop. So no, it doesn’t surprise me anymore how interconnected the world is, even in a largish city like Austin. And because the core group of my closest friends are people that I know from that coffee shop, it’s rare that I’ll find a situation on FB where I’m surprised by people I know who know each other, because that web is undeniably tangled.

6 Katie { 02.13.14 at 10:57 am }

A longtime reader of my blog, back when I was still semi-anonymous, emailed me to ask me a few questions about infertility. It turned out that not only did we attend high school together, but that she was my neighbor — she and her husband lived just a few houses down.

7 Kristin { 02.13.14 at 11:33 am }

A number of years ago, I posted pictures of my grandfather with his flight crew from WW II. Thanks to good labeling, I had names to go along with all the crew members. A short while after I posted the pictures, I got an email from the daughter of the pilot my grandfather flew with. The families had lost touch so many years ago. Thanks to the pictures going up, the families (including the one surviving crew member) reconnected and were able to attend a ceremony honoring their crew.

8 Battynurse { 02.13.14 at 11:35 am }

I love this post. I’m too tired right now to think of an answer to your question but it’s a great post and I know I’ve had some great moments thanks to the internet.

9 Shelby { 02.13.14 at 12:54 pm }

I don’t really have any long-lost childhood buddy stories, but I always find it interesting how a Facebook friend who lives about an hour away can have a mutual friend or a friend’s friend of mine on their list. It seems to happen quite often, despite them not being part of any unique social or professional network that would make the world smaller. (For instance, as a school psychologist, I can go anywhere within a two hour radius and find other school psychologists who know my grad school chronies, but that’s to be expected as we’re a lot more limited in numbers than most other roles in education)

10 JustHeather { 02.13.14 at 2:46 pm }

I can’t think of any fun and interesting reconnect stories, but it does make me think of some people I knew when I was little and have wondered where they are now. It would be pretty cool to reconnect, even if just for a quick hello and where are you now?

11 Brid { 02.13.14 at 3:11 pm }

Did I just read somewhere that because of social media, six degrees of separation has decreased to four?

12 Elisha { 02.13.14 at 4:13 pm }

This has happened to me lots of times! Also, thanks for posting about the images…I never really thought about it since i just will sometimes google an image and find a quote or something that I like. I am not doing this anymore! Thanks for sharing.

13 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.13.14 at 5:35 pm }

Oh, I’m so very curious about that last one.

I told one similar story about the new wife of an old boyfriend who let a social media platform into her contacts (which I was in because years earlier she had written me to stay away). Said social media platform then reached out to me to connect with her.

Which isn’t exactly the same, but is an amusing story nonetheless.

14 Mali { 02.13.14 at 11:27 pm }

I haven’t had many instances. But last year I was lucky enough to meet Klara from The Next 15000 Days (http://thenext15000days.blogspot.com/) in Slovenia, and we swopped real names and became Friends on Facebook. The next day she saw that she I had a friend who had a friend in common with her friend. My friend was Malaysian living in California, hers was Malaysian living in Australia. It truly is a small world.

(And one full of coincidences, because before I read this I just posted a story about social media/internet connections on A Separate Life – http://aseparatelife.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/love-on-the-internet/).

15 Pepper { 02.14.14 at 6:34 am }

Mine’s not from social media, but a middle school friend who moved away in the 7th grade married one of my husband’s high school friends. She didn’t meet him until college. I didn’t meet my husband until my mid-20s. She had met my husban and I had met hers. We didn’t all get together until we were 30. But she and I immediately recognized each other, close to 20 years later.

16 Pepper { 02.14.14 at 6:37 am }

Oooh, I just realized I do have one of those stories, but it wasn’t a yay! good one. I worked with a realtor over a year ago. When I first hired her, I loved her but she quickly disappointed me. No returned calls or texts, just disinterested. She pawned us off on one associate after another, each one ruder than the last. Suffice it to say, I felt duped by this together, kind woman who I thought I met and hired. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I see her tagged in a picture, out at a bar with my delinquent cousins – the partying, bad-choice making, obnoxious, uneducated, generally ignorant section of my family. Yes, they are apparently friends (based on pics and comments). My stomach dropped and I immediately went to show my husband who just kept saying, “How did we not know? HOW did we not know???”

17 Persnickety { 02.16.14 at 7:37 am }

Not as many as I would think. I grew up in several places, and moved a lot but keep expecting crossover. So far, the closest I have come is a former co-worker who went to the same high school as my husband.

I work in an office of 8 people, we recently welcomed the eighth, and he is from outside our core industry and was surprised to hear us all talking about people we collectively knew in the industry ( all of us have worked at the same company as at least one of the others, sometimes at the same time) but small, specialized industry so not surprising.

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