It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood…

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Last week on Facebook, I received a friend request from someone I don’t know who lives in Fountain Hills, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it. It’s not that I’m overly selective in my mix of Fb friends. I’ve got 368, and it’s a pretty good grab bag of people. There are characters I remember vaguely from high school, friends I’ve met moving and living all over the country, contacts from my art career, people my children have brought into our lives, far-flung extended family members, and a few voices I’ve only ever met online, but with whom I’ve enjoyed meaningful conversation through blogging or groups.

There’s also the piano teacher I had when I was 8 years old, to whom I was nothing but a disappointment. (I felt I owed him some proof that I turned out okay. My 8th grade geology teacher is there too, for roughly the same reason.) I recently added my hairstylist, who has surprised me by turning out to be more entertaining than 97% of the other people on the list. Proof that it pays to cast a wide net when it comes to collecting friends.

But I usually don’t accept friend requests from folks I haven’t met or had real interaction with. For one thing, I’m interested in controlling the mix of posts in my feed. Like everyone, I curate my online life to suit myself, and as a result I’ve built a quirky, cozy place that’s uniquely mine.

I love dropping in every day to see what’s going on in my virtual neighborhood.

So I was hesitant. He must have seen me comment on one of the Fountain Hills pages, and before deciding, I felt a little healthy Facebook stalking was in order. Luckily his settings were public enough to give me a pretty good glimpse.

From his posts and photos, he seemed like someone I’d very much like to know in real life, an accomplished artist who generally looks like a pretty darn interesting guy. I like the idea that he’s the kind of person who lives in my real-life town! So I accepted.

I don’t know why that seemed more risky to me than knocking on an actual neighbor’s door, but it did. As much as the internet has made it a small world, it’s also made it one in which it’s easy to be less involved with people face-to-face than in previous generations. There’s probably something to be said for the days of being forced out of your house to meet people.

We might have met on a walk somewhere, nodding politely, commenting on the beautiful sunset, or stopping to pet one another’s dogs. I like to think I’d have taken over a loaf of lemon bread to welcome him to the neighborhood if he’d moved in on my street. Instead, we’re just virtual neighbors, and I’ll probably never recognize him if we pass in the grocery aisle. But I’m glad he thought I looked like an interesting resident of his town too, and reached out.

I’m going to try to follow his lead. Tomorrow I’m meeting a group for a walk at the fountain. None of us have met, but when a fun-sounding woman posted looking for free thinkers who’d enjoy walking and 13 people replied in just a few minutes, I thought, why not? It’s another opportunity to expand the intersection of my online world with the one outside my window.

Which reminds me that I’ve also got some new actual neighbors in the house kitty-corner to mine that I haven’t met yet. (And that’s an opportunity for lemon bread.)

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