Sometime back I connected with high school friends and fits of laughter escaped from the windows of my study. I am sure it will not surprise you to hear that I also sat in one of those conversations where somebody said “What did we do before Facebook?” I had probably heard that question many times before but that particular night at Rascals, sharing pizza with friends, I suddenly remembered the Wall and what it looked like before Facebook.
The wall was yellow and wide enough to sit comfortably. The days when crime never forced security gates and electric fencing. Further down the street the Wall extended to Mrs Petersen’s porch. All the way down the street there were walls – places where knock kneed youngsters gathered to connect, make plans and comment on each others’ lives.
It was a time when school was a place to learn the ABC’s and never took over our lives with the pressure of projects, assignments and extra mural achievements. At the end of the school day, khaki canvass haversacks were flung carelessly over the garden wall or down the passage and we went tearing down the street. We did not always change uniforms and sometimes you logged on before you got home because someone’s wall was on the way home from school.
We did not send flowers but we did pick “sierangs” (tiny yellow daisy with a green sour stem) and chewed it merrily while we rested carefree heads on our school satchels. We did not get rewards playing candy crush but we sported big knee grazes after a zealous game of Kimberly Jim. We did not send cupcakes but we celebrated the peanut butter and jam sandwiches from Mama Vickers. We never collected hearts but we had hours of unsurpassed pleasure collecting tadpoles in the flooded fields that now form Jan Smuts Drive.
Your profile was free of masks, filetrs and pretense. Acne, knock-knees, af-dakkie fringes, shy awkward personalities or spoilt brat manners greeted your friends and you were known for who you were. We could not add and delete friends. We had to learn to cope with whoever was presented – even Spider – the boy with the uni brow who chased us after school.
Before Facebook we also had groups and a Group was very different to a Wall. The Wall was intimate and in front of your house or Debbie’s house or Marlene’s or Ruwayda’s house. You had to manage your wall carefully as it said everything about you. You controlled who came to your Wall and how much time they spent there. Your wall could be as busy or as quiet as you wanted and was very much affected by your mood. Stervy (elitist) and religious guys had very boring Walls even then. Many many love dramas played out on the Wall like the saga of John n Audette. Some people had well resourced walls and we knew exactly where to go to lay our hands on stories, snacks and interesting gadgets like CB radio parts.
The Group before Facebook was sort of public and sort of private. Along the red and yellow railings of the park outside Mr Orrie’s shop members of the group met regularly. Being a group, people could leave and join depending on the admins and the admins were made up of the in-group. In these groups the friends from Lyndon Crescent, Gateway Crescent, Cassandra Road and Alison Road connected and contributed to the dynamics. You were as active in the group as the admins allowed – Argus delivery boys, those who were tasked with watering the garden and the poor kids who were forced off to piano missed out and never quite made the grade.
We never spent our afternoons playing Scrabble or Mafia Wars but table tennis and soccer at Stephanian’s Table Tennis Club was a given. Whether you played the game or not you were found at Pedro Meyer’s home in Cassandra Road. You never had to fight a busy network but you had to work your way pass the canine brute who just never got used to the multitude of children, teenagers and adults making their way to club. In the treasured clubhouse we also had a photo album – printouts of countless tournaments, practice sessions and award ceremonies graced the club Wall!
Before Facebook I never needed to be driven to my friend’s house. Before Facebook I could play till after dark and know I was safe. Before Facebook all the moms in the street were responsible for all the children in the street. They monitored our Walls and checked for spam. Before Facebook we were never bored – exhausted yes – but never bored … rollerskates, dingbats, yo-yo’s, bamboo kites, bok-bok, drie-blikkies, tok-tokkie, BMX, street tennis and after dark athletics when the heat of the sun exuded from the tar … and in between all of that there was that first kiss and a childhood romance. Before Facebook we knew what our childhood sweethearts looked like and did not rely on an emoticon.
So indee,d before Facebook we had a Wall and Groups and Profiles. Before Facebook neighbourhoods were interactive communities. Before Facebook birthday parties mattered and we could afford them and we really ate cupcakes.
For now, we have Facebook and I am still doing the same thing I did then – connecting with people, living in community, sharing my joys and sorrows with the people who choose to visit my wall, meeting with the guys who hang out in the same groups and sharing our pics and the memories they hold. I can’t walk to Heathfield and the United Arab Emirates but I still go by Marlene and Ruwaydah’s Wall everyday. I don’t eat doughnuts at the clubhouse but Crystal and I still compare notes on our Status. I still moan at David n Andre for leaving me out of the game which has progressed from BMX rides to boat trips in Gansbaai when I check their photos. And at forty plus, I still get into trouble with the things that happen on my Wall just like I did when I was fourteen …
Many things have changed and many things remain the same … I am fortunate that I see many of the friends on my Wall regularly (in real life) … and when I cannot … I am glad to still have a Wall and a Group …
First published 2009