A chance Facebook posting of a photo of a school friend I had long forgotten has triggered a blitz of FB chat, with former students of the school I, and some of them, left over 40 years ago. I dug out my diaries (for a few years I kept a diary but it petered out during university) and a box of what I call memorabilia and others would call junk. Frantic googling and LinkIn-ing followed. Why this magnetic attraction to a part of my life in the 1960s at a boarding school in West (as was) Germany? Why seek to recall now? Why are so many revisiting their youth?
Obviously because it is easier now: the whole social media empire makes contact so easy, so global, so possible now what was impossible just 10 years ago. Friends Re-united made the initial breakthrough but its rigid structure designed clearly by database engineers has lost out to Facebook’s ease and realtime.
Just because it is possible doesn’t explain why. Curiosity stands out. What is X doing (cynical sub-text have they done better than me?) ; did X and Y stay together? (well I never, they did), does anyone remember no (no of course not: their world did not revolve around you as much as your own). They did! OMG. And they still want to be in touch! Did I remember them? No? grey cells going faster than I thought?
Is it to redeem a sense of loss? School was a community, closed, safe, structured. Now life may be less so. Or it is safe now after a hectic life so time to reflect and remember. The fun comes from discovering others and engaging. The members of the group feel like disconnected Google+ circles. Our immediate close friends of the time are not taking part (yet) but we are connected by stronger bonds of the school memes.
I’ve liked the American tradition of school yearbooks. From time to time newspapers show pics of hopeful teenagers who go on to become celebrities of one form or another Of course we cringe when we see photos of our youth: hair, fashion, geekiness. I’ve just seen Damon Alban cringe when shown his earliest Blur concert. he’s moved on; the image hasn’t. A recent retrospective, and useless, regret is that as editor of the school mag I didn’t adopt the US tradition even though I had many American friends. Instead I’ve a few poignant farewells written in the school mag: well in the Girl’s School mag. “It’s complicated” existed even if not recognised as a status.
What stands out from the conversations are the school memes. Richard Dawkins’ term for the intangible DNA of ideas and wisps of imagination. The school rituals, the in-jokes, the little easily forgotten eccentricities which meant so much at the time, passed through the 29 year life of the school. Handed down by staff, by students, by convention. Someone who attended in 1954 would find elements in common with someone at the close of the school in 1983.
The school was unusual. A boarding school run by the UK Ministry of Defence for children of military stationed in West Germany; a Boys School and a Girls School a kilometre apart. The buildings were converted military barracks built in 1935. The school in my time was livened up with Americans whose parents worked for a Du Pont factory nearby. There was a sense of mourning when the buildings were demolished two years ago. Except the chapel and the dining block. But that’s another story.
And the straightforward simple explanation with the deepest implications. Online contact friendship and interaction is a new cultural factor. It will be a paradigm shift in personal, and collective, culture. Within a decade I expect it to transform politics, the arts, international affairs as well as economy. Connections are key to that change. It’s fun.
I’ve spent my working life working for increasing international contact and engagement. The school years with its mix of British, Canadian, German and Americans was a valuable starting point.
And Perry Tracy? If anyone knows him please let me know, for a friend.