When I was in school, it was not uncommon for teachers to assign an essay on the question of “What did you do this summer?” as one of our first assignments. For that matter, we’d ask this sort of question of each other. But nowadays, there’s nothing to tell. Our buddies know everything we’ve been doing, unless their home computers and cell phones are busted, thanks to the advent of Facebook and other social networking sites. Not only do we share everything we do, however mundane, we include photographs that we took with our phones as it happened.

Personally, I love Facebook and email, texting and Twitter. I wish it had existed way back when I was a kid. In the old days, the only time you’d hear from your high school or college friends would be at reunions every ten or twenty years. The day I graduated from high school, my father warned me sadly that I should look carefully and think hard about everything and everyone on that day, because I’d never see any of them ever again. He spoke from experience. And indeed, I’ve never had any contact with anyone that I went to high school with ever again.

Thanks to Facebook, however, I’ve reconnected with several people from my college days. Had Facebook existed back in the dark ages, we’d never have fallen out of each other’s lives in the first place. Perhaps there would have been a few people I’d have been happy never to see again, but for the most part, staying in contact would have been a good thing.

In contrast, my children use Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. They text each other constantly. They are always connected to everyone they have ever known. I suspect that the only way they will ever lose contact with their friends is if they consciously choose to.

And I think that’s wonderful.

Computers have brought people closer together. If it weren’t for computers, I wouldn’t ever have started writing books for Quarto, a company in London. They’d have never heard of me and I’d have never heard of them. Thanks to the computer, my editors and I could exchange files and make necessary changes and corrections nearly instantly. The writing of a book is an international collaboration; I can cross an ocean faster than I can cross my office. Thanks to computers, it doesn’t matter where I live, or where the publisher is.

Three summers ago we had a foreign exchange student visit us from France for three weeks. At the time, she was fifteen years old; she had a great time. She remarked on how everything she saw in California reminded her of TV shows and movies—even our house, the way it looks in our suburban subdivision. Her first thought on her arrival was, “I’m in the house in Desperate Housewives!”

The tour group she was a part of took her to see most of the typical tourist sites, such as Universal Studios and Magic Mountain. We also made a point to take her to places that her group didn’t visit. My oldest daughter had a summer internship in the corporate offices of Guess that summer. So we took Lea to visit. We ate lunch in the Wolfgang Puck Grill on the corporate campus, then took her to shop in the corporate store so she could enjoy the substantial discounts available there. She happily contributed in a positive way to the American trade balance. Guess clothing is much cheaper in the U.S. than in France, and in the corporate store, she paid as much for the designer label clothing as she would have spent buying the cheapest no-name brands at Walmart.

We also took her up to see the Hollywood sign: not as most tourists see it, but up as close as you can get, within hiking distance. In fact, it wasn’t legal for us to get any closer to it than we did. We also took her to see Vasquez Rocks, a tumble of rock formations that are part of the San Andreas Fault. They frequently appear in westerns and in episodes of Star Trek—for instance the episode from the original series where Captain Kirk fights the Gorn, a reptilian alien that he finally bests when he makes gunpowder, stuffs it in a hollow log, and blasts him with rocks. Vasquez Rocks also served as a stand in for Vulcan during the first of J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie. But Lea didn’t recognize them from TV or movies. Instead, she told us she’d seen them in one of her brother’s video games, Grand Theft Auto.

She told us she doesn’t much care for French food; instead, she’d rather eat American style food. In fact, one of her goals was to eat hot dogs, which she did at every opportunity. The only uniquely French behavior we witnessed from her—besides speaking French when she was with her fellow students from the tour—was when we took her to a nice restaurant just before she left for home. She ordered a cheeseburger, but then proceeded to eat it with her fork and knife. She said that at fast food places like In-and-Out, it was fine to eat with her hands. But in a restaurant, she said it felt funny to eat that way. In France, she never uses her hands to eat–unless she’s at a McDonalds.

Since she left, we have remained in contact with her on Facebook; unlike most of the exchange students we had in the past, we’ll never lose contact. In fact, we first got to know her on Facebook, even before she arrived. And thanks to all of that, she and her parents invited my oldest daughter to come stay with her in France the following summer, which my daughter did. She had a great time and got to practice the two years of French she’d taken in High School.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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