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Reconnecting in person. Of course, this photo likely will make its way onto Facebook at some point as well.
East County Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 5 years ago

OBSERVED: Social media project sparks reunion

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

My email inbox is a peculiar place. With one click of the mouse, hundreds of pieces of correspondence fill my email client every day. The vast majority of the senders are contacting me requesting some sort of coverage in the paper. Others want to share an interesting photo or — my personal favorite — announcements of new babies.

And, of course, I’ve met a number of Nigerian princes throughout the years (and apparently have millions waiting for me in Africa).

On most days, I engage in a strange never-ending tango with my inbox: The number of messages grows by the second; I trim it back with my Delete key-shaped machete.

I was in the middle of such a dance about a week ago when a familiar name popped up. Name: Ann Scharnhorst. Subject: Connecting Cross Country.

Ann is an old friend of mine from high school in St. Louis, Mo. We were both proud marching band geeks and ran in pretty much the same circle of friends. I hadn’t seen or heard from her since I graduated in 1996. In fact, I hadn’t spent much time with anyone from high school since I turned that tassel.

“I know it’s been a while, but perhaps that is about to change!” Ann wrote. “This summer, I began a quest to visit my Facebook friends in person. I covered 12,000 miles and 112 friends in eight weeks. And now I’ve hit the road again for Phase Two and have seen more than 300 friends across another 13,000 miles!”

This quest, which she named Connecting Cross Country, was in response to the strange phenomenon called Facebook. On the surface, connecting through the social-media site seems to pull friends and family closer together. But in reality, one could argue it keeps those relationships further from actual human connection.

Ann — behind the wheel of her 2002 Ford Focus ZX5 — is changing that. She’s using the trip as inspiration for an online blog, on which she features the friends with whom she reconnects.

For the second phase of Connecting Cross Country, Ann headed to the East Coast from her home in Los Angeles, turned south and hit Florida last week.

Since Ann started her trip, I’d check in with her blog every few weeks to see where she was. We have plenty of mutual friends, and it was fascinating to read about so many of them and learn just where life had taken them post-high school.

And, of course, I wondered when — or if — she’d ever make it to the Sunshine State.

There’s something immediately comforting about a friend from the past. Although we weren’t the closest of friends, those competitive marching band days were instrumental (pun intended) in so many aspects of our lives and, in turn, forged an immediate understanding. We’d come from the same place, and although life had taken us to opposite ends of the country, there are roots that always stretch back to St. Louis.

Over two-and-one-half hours, our conversation ran deep — music, careers, family, loss, death, religion, parenting, the economy, real estate and more. Sure, she already knew about my wife and our two children through Facebook. But the panacea of a nice, long chat with an old friend is tragically lost in this day of Status Updates, Tweets and the occasional YouTube link.

Before Ann’s visit, I hadn’t thought about the larger ramifications of Facebook. Sure, it offers a connection with anyone on the planet. I am one click away from friends as far away as Japan and Turkey. But are these connections giving us an excuse not to reconnect in person?

Do you have any incredible Facebook connections to share? Or are you a steadfast boycotter of all things social media? Email your responses to me at [email protected], or give me a call, 366-3468, Ext. 304.

Or even better: Let’s have lunch. 

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