Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Memphis Connected

I attended the launch party for the new website memphisconnect.com this evening. It was a lovely affair put on by the good people of The Leadership Academy and attended by movers and shakers and those in the know in Memphis. And me.

And people knew me! Well, they could read the name tag I proudly stuck on my costume, my threadbare sport coat I don when I'm going to be rubbing shiny elbows with movers and shakers.

I was surprised, though, by why people recognized me ... or, my name anyway. I never expect to be recognized, but when I am, I don't expect it this way. It wasn't from my column or this blog or Facebook or even the retail store I owned for 10 years. It was from Twitter.

Twitter? Really? A hundred and forty characters at a time compels people to walk up to a person they don't know and say, "Hi, we've never met, but I follow you on Twitter ... " Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they did. They were friendly and engaging people, and not at all stalkery. They were folks with dreams and kids and stories to tell, and just like you and me, for the most part. Although they probably make more money. There's no reason for me to think they'll be peering in my windows tonight or standing at the end of my driveway in the morning.

This Twitter fascinates me. All of the social networking sites do, actually. I'm relatively new to it all and it doesn't quite make sense yet. I can't wrap my virtual brain around it. I feel there is a sense of community, but I can't get my fingers on it, it's ephemeral. It's there, yet it's not.

Is Memphis really such a small town that we're all connected by just a person or two, or is the internet just that good of a host; putting people with just enough in common, yet unlike each other enough for conversation to happen organically, together at this friendly, pixelated dinner party?

I wonder how much Twitter and Facebook would have affected the end of a story, and an ideal of American life, as universal as It's a Wonderful Life. The inscription from Clarence in the copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer left for George Bailey at the finale of the film reads: Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends.

But are those I've invited to be friends truly that? Are you all my friends? Had Mary put out a call for help with her laptop, would she have rounded up enough cash to keep George out of prison? Or would she have received only a collection of "Bar w/frnds drnkng all nite. Gd luck @GBailey! U rock!!!!" along with 483 pieces of flair, 39 people bitching about the new Facebook and PayPal donations totaling $14.72?

If my wife put out a call for help to you people, would you respond? I mean, with real money? (That would be good to know, actually.)

Should you want to see what the world would be like had you never been born, you don't need a guardian angel to show you. Simply delete your Facebook account, lose your Twitter login or do the unthinkable and unplug your wireless modem. But then turn it all right back on for God's sake, you might miss something! One of your friends might have found out what '80s movie best defines her.

I think about the future and whether my will kids grow up with good friends and a community of support. Will they have wingmen, confidants and supporters ... or just a bunch of twits?