How Social Media Connects 20 Years of My Life

The other night a college friend of mine had a major career milestone. Maybe you saw it when U2 played on the Tonight Show on Monday. My friend books the bands on the show and the Late Show before that. He lined up Pearl Jam week too — our mutual heroes — and many more.

I probably haven't talked to him in person in a dozen years. But how do I know about this huge milestone for him, his job, his career? Twitter, where I follow him and converse from time to time.

Seeing that tweet the other day — teamed to my wife planning her 20-year high school reunion (mine is coming too) — got me thinking about how social networks have kept me in touch with people I would otherwise have let slip away. Do I call any of these people on the phone? No. Do I know about their jobs and families as well as their own families? Yes. And over the past few years these are people I make sure to meet with when I'm on the road in L.A. or NYC or Detroit.

The array of people I've been lucky enough to know is quite remarkable when you look at it with a wide-angle lens.

One high school buddy and I always get together when his engineering job brings him to Chicago. And yes, via Facebook I see his mundane family moments as well as the major challenges like dealing with Hurricane Sandy ravaging his home.

Friends from college I didn't talk to since graduation I only connected with through Facebook in the past few years. Two live in L.A. One works in reality TV and the other makes movie trailers. I'm not making that up.

My best friend from college — he markets some of the most recognizable beverages in the U.S. —  lives the closest to me yet we rarely see each other (three kids between us keep us busy) but we're always communicating via the Facebook.

One of the smartest people I've met in the past twenty years was at my first post-college job at the Palm Beach Post. He led the Internet charge at the time and now teaches to a whole new generation at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. I know all about his own kids and the work he does…but again, haven’t seen him in nearly 12 years.

One of our mutual friends is still in Florida, living the dream of Tiki idolatry and he even got married recently. I never would have known of either if not for his social updates.

He was someone who got me into the music scene in Florida where I met terrifically talented people. One has a new band and music I follow on Twitter and Facebook and when he comes to town the wife and I try to catch the show and chat afterwards before having to head home to the sitter. It's pretty hard to keep up with him other than his public social interactions. But I always know when he's coming to town...

I've met some other interesting musicians over the years forming loose bonds here and there, but no facetime for a very long time. One had some of the biggest hits of the '90s and the other, one of the most underrated of the past 20 years. But from time to time I cross paths with both on Twitter talking about fatherhood or just a good song I heard.

When I moved into covering the automotive industry I met a whole new crop of scoundrels kindred souls. I competed against and worked with some for a brief time during my blog days and they have moved on too, succeeding with online video and sponsored content.

A photographer who once worked with me now travels everywhere, from Iceland (above) to Pebble Beach posting about both work and his two boys with the same delight.

I meet lots of interesting people in PR and they move quite a bit. One of the brightest went from one Detroit heavyweight to another and I read some of the most interesting social media news via his posts. And the last time I was in Detroit we made sure to meet for drinks.

Then there are the other people I’ve met who are dads so similar to me in Chicago. There's a younger auto scribe who moved across the country but I followed his first days of fatherhood on Facebook. The updates are eerily similar to what I went through with Carter.   

Another is a dad who runs the best Mini Cooper blog on the net. He lives nearby with similarly aged kids but we get most of our facetime on drive events or auto shows hundreds of miles from home.

Just a few blocks away lives another car-obsessed dad with kids similar ages to mine but we talk mostly via Twitter and sometimes I give him a ride to work in a test car...after a couple of Twitter messages.

There are others; a local firefighter, a high school friend fighting crime as a D.A., a former autowriter now working on veteran issues. Mostly seen through social filters.

This post isn’t to shout "check out all my amazing friends." This is a catalog of how I've been able to keep track of these intriguing lives I've been lucky enough to cross paths with over the past 20 years. Yes, sometimes the everyday monotony of updates gets tiresome, but there are plenty of milestones I'm glad I don't miss. 

Note: I only added links to public accounts on Twitter or Instagram, so my Facebook friends remain a bit more private.