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Staying best friends forever

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Growing up in Brackenridge, Pa., in the 1970s, I had a few, close neighborhood friends. Our small steel town sits on the banks of the mighty Allegheny River, just north of Pittsburgh.

Yes, it still has a functioning steel mill. In fact, Brackenridge was, and in many ways still is, bustling with a blue-collar work ethic, a value that was hammered into us by family, friends and our surroundings.

Those few neighborhood friends and I swore we’d be best friends forever. We had so much in common: strangely dysfunctional home lives, fathers who worked in steel mills and related industries, and a fascination for what life must be like in faraway cities – like Pittsburgh.

Like most friends back then, we weren’t best friends forever. We moved on and lost touch, promises of life-long friendships evaporated by time and distance.

We wrote letters, but not often, and only when we could find envelopes and money for stamps.

We made phone calls, but only when our parents gave the okay to incur long-distance charges.

We valued work and friendship, but we didn’t really know how to work at maintaining those friendships without easily accessible communication tools.

That all changed in the last decade.

The tools we have for staying connected with close friends are built to help us get around those pesky time and distance problems.

So, when I learned a few weeks ago that our good friends would be leaving Youngstown for a parent’s new job in Texas, I panicked, if only for a moment. Our families are closely connected, our daughters linked perfectly in terms of ages and interests.

They’re BFFs (i.e., best friends forever).

Last night was the final play date for a while. Maybe forever. I was prepared with tissues and hugs for what certainly would be an evening of weeping and tears.

But the tears never came.

Sure, I was thinking back to my childhood friendships that vanished over time, reflecting on how sad I was in the moments when friends moved away. I cried when friends moved away.

Then I reconsidered how connected we are because of technology. In fact, I argue that my children are probably better connected to their BFFs than I am to my batch of friends.

They connect with distant friends everyday on apps like Amino and Instagram, games like Animal Jam and Roblox, on tablets and smartphones. They talk, collaborate and play. They know how to connect with others, and they put in the work to learn new apps because they value those friendships.

In the ’70s, I learned that staying connected with friends took a lot of work. But today I’m glad to see my kids reap the rewards for the work they do to learn and use those technologies to stay connected to their buddies – their BFFs.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.