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The Facebook factor

Last week, Anthony Commisso hit one out of the park and derailed my clockwork morning routine when his Facebook post caught my eye.

In truth, I do not know Anthony Commisso — except through his posts. We have never met (although we may speak, at least by phone, before this is published). I do know he is well known in the Capital Region, a Siena graduate, proprietor of Tuxego (tuxego.com) and loves baseball — (“Even though I’m a diehard Yankee fan, Yankees are giving me agita!!!!!” — Oct 15).

Certainly, his posts indicate the apex of his affections are reserved for his wife, Colleen, and their four children — 8-1/2-year-old triplets Emma, Kaeleigh and Tony, and 5-year-old Grace. Recently, he celebrated his birthday with them (“…a great day celebrating my birthday with my beautiful wife and family just enjoying the simple things in life. I love them for all they bring to my life…” — Oct 11).

In fact, everything I know of Commisso I learned via Facebook as I checked my own Facebook feeds each day. When I thought about writing this blog, I contacted him via Facebook to get his thumbs-up -– and henceforth, I refer to him as Tony.

Tony’s personal and family photos appeal to parts of my own history as do the sense, sensibility, goodwill and humor inherent in messages to and between his Facebook friends. There are others as well — such as promoter Kathy Conway, musician Frank Palangi, Realtor Tim Perales, EMPAC/RPI’s Jason Steven Murphy and Amsterdam blues artists Holly and Evan (Holly Taormina and Evan Conway) — who I know only through Facebook. I follow their adventures and root for success in their posted goals and gigs.

On this particular day, Tony commented on a tongue-in-cheek critique on the increased use of social media in news reporting. He wondered about the perception of closeness/intimacy/friendship assumed on Facebook versus the likelihood that many users stockpile “friends” in the hope of being popular/liked by the numbers.

I, too, have wondered –- but I am much older than Tony, who graduated from college more than 20 years after I had entered the workforce. I also know that at heart I am a promoter and mentor (at this stage in life, I love reading about what people are doing -– especially musicians and artists –- and re-posting (shouting out) their events to others on this network. I know it is appreciated -– because I get notes acknowledging the “shouts.” On the other hand, I remain reluctant to share personal information on any social network site. It’s probably as simple as these are new to me. When I entered the workforce, we were using carbon paper to make copies and the ‘net, personal computers and cellphones did not yet exist!

I was particularly open to Tony’s perspective, especially since I am planning to move away from now familiar names and faces to an as-yet-to-be-discovered life in Schenectady. Moving in middle age comes with its own stresses beyond packing/sorting/distilling/moving and reallocating resources at the receiving end of the trip. What I feel is a haunting fear of once again becoming, well, invisible through the transition to a new place –- even more than the inevitable transparency that comes with aging.

Tony’s post brought to mind a day last year when I was invited to co-teach a marketing class at a nearby college. As I approached the lecture hall, I saw a near-circle of students. How nice to see such a gathering, I thought. Once closer, I saw that each was on a phone, talking, texting but not to one another. When I mentioned this to some peers who also were on campus, they were surprised by my surprise –- and told me that the administration was worried about the lack of personal interaction among students; many take food back to the dorms so that they can reconnect with friends/assignments via cell phone and computers rather than socialize face-to-face with one another in the dining halls.

Later that night while I waited outside a restaurant for a friend, two cars pulled in -– each with a single passenger, each passenger on a call. The drivers exited their cars, nodded to one another, clasped one another’s hand, and walked arm in arm into the restaurant and sat at the same table. From the window, I could see that they remained on separate phone calls for the additional 10 minutes I waited outside.

I am confused by my own perceptions of intimacy as an outgrowth of personal interaction. I grew up in a time in which one spoke with friends often, wrote and reached via long distance with the help of Ma Bell, participated in sports, clubs or scouting and played and stayed together as much as possible –- each contributing to those elusive ties that bind us to the past and to other people.

Increasingly, I am puzzled watching kids at area restaurants texting continually -– with little or no conversation with their parents/hosts. Is this good? Bad? Any different from a far-away time when I traveled across the country for several months a year and watched couples in restaurants eat entire meals with no visible exchange of conversation?

I ponder these things because, like Janus, the mythological Roman god of gates, doors, beginnings, endings and time, I must envision and prepare for an evolving future in the new Schenectady while looking back on people, places, things, feelings and connections that are the sum of my life to date.

I know that, strangely, Facebook has helped open doors: three times in recent months, I have been approached on the streets in Schenectady by people asking if I were so-and-so because they recognized me from my wall photo on Facebook. Readers, seeing my posts, have “personally” invited me to events. Each time, I am surprised -– forgetting that in reaching out I give others permission to reach back.

Tony Commisso recently shared a newswire item via Facebook: “From male engagement rings to weddings that give back, today’s millennial generation is taking an unconventional eye to their engagements and weddings to reflect a renewed emphasis on the core values of marriage … While Generation X cited career growth as the primary reason behind their delay in marriage, studies show that millennials actually value marriage above career and financial success (Pew Research Center, “Portrait of the millennials,” February 2010). Instead, today’s couples are focused on finding the right person to spend the rest of their life with, showing a greater emphasis on marriage as a lifelong commitment.”

Whether or not marriage is back in style, it is good to know that relationships survive –- no matter what generates and nourishes them. These connections and couplings of minds, hearts and, perhaps, even bodies will be the foundation of a new chapter in my life in Schenectady.

By phone, email, accidental meetings on the street or “shouts” from people I have never met, I remain open to a world that never ceases to teach, challenge and amaze me.

Thom O’Connor is a regular blogger in the online Daily Gazette. He writes to wile away the transition between the sale of his house and his arrival in Schenectady.


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