We all know the general narrative that is spun around social connectivity; as the world becomes more socially connected we expect social barriers to fall. As activists around the world use twitter and youtube to break free from state sanctioned media and connect us to the common woman on the street, our local enclaves will melt away and we’ll all become one big Internet family. I can tweet a shout out to my blog followers on Monday, share a picture of my garden on Tuesday, help topple a corrupt regime on Wednesday, and work with my strange sister-n-law to post her dating profile on Thursday. What a world we live in. But I fear that this happy narrative is a lie. Allow me to share an extended anecdote.
Twenty years ago this past summer I graduated from Ryle High School in Union, KY and prepared to head off to Transylvania University. My parents read LE blog and believe me, they are fighting tears because of that last sentence. I loved, ABSOLUTELY LOVED, my time at Transy. I sang in the choir, I played intermural sports, poorly. I joined a fraternity (no stories worth mentioning). I even managed to do some studying. It was the best four-year stretch of my life. But not everyone at Transy had the same experience. I had a girlfriend back home during part of that first year, and I wrote her occasionally and even drove home to visit every few weeks until she dumped me after her prom (wisest decision of your life S.N.). Despite the fact that I lived only an hour south of my parents and high school friends, I didn’t spend much time looking back. 99% of my thought and energy went into my new social and educational situation, but many of the people surrounding me didn’t break free. In 1994-1995 the Internet was just becoming a big thing. It wasn’t available in our dorm rooms until I was a sophomore, but we could e-mail and even have primitive chats in the computer labs. And these labs were frequently full of freshmen that would not or could not break free of friends and family back home. They lived and studied at Transy Monday through Friday but they went home whenever they had the chance. For many intents and purposes, they never really came to college. Their bodies were at Universities, their hearts and minds never left Harlan or Hazard or Dry Ridge.