The Old Social Media

In the circus that is today’s social media, the big top has come to almost every town, and we’ve all become ring masters in our own minds. “Ladies and Gentlemen, now in the center ring, an actual smartphone snapshot of the Cajun pork chops we just made for dinner!”

Other people’s electronic moments tumble into my laptop like clowns endlessly emptying out of an impossibly small automobile. But clowns are creepy, and in a way, so are those food trophies you have photographed and eaten. No thanks. Status update: Un-friending you fast enough to make your head spin.

Sure, as consumers of social media go, we are all curious, and from time to time we poke our heads under the circus tent – a post here, a tweet there. But fortunately, many of the best ways my Finger Lakes neighbors communicate with each other remains stubbornly offline.

Some of our most important gestures and symbols still wire us together in a very wireless way. Drive down any road in our neck of the woods and you will experience the unmistakable imprint of the Old Social Media.

The wave

Before Facebook, we acknowledged our “likes” of neighbors and friends quite simply with a raised hand. In our neighborhood, waving is a special language all its own, and there’s many kinds.

For example, the Kid Wave is a rapid rotation of the fingers around a twitchy wrist. Typically, Kid Wavers have had too much coffee that day. Or they are kids.

Without stopping or turning, the Back-Hand Wave is tossed over the shoulder, usually in response to the friendly honk from a passing car. The Back-Hand Wave says, “I’m headed into the house now because it’s dinner time, and I have my priorities straight.”

While carrying out the recycling box to the road, the Stop-and-Drop Waver will take the time to set down their load and wave as you pass by. This gesture says, “We are not just neighbors; we are true friends.” Also, it says, “I just realized that I forgot to pick up your mail while you were in Florida, and I am now wildly overcompensating.”

The Two-Hand Wave is, basically, a slower, more decaffeinated version of the Kid Wave times two. For safety purposes, the Two-Hand Wave is never exchanged while operating a vehicle. My friend Jim says he regularly receives the Two-Hand Wave from our neighbors, though I have never actually seen it, much less been on the receiving end of one. Clearly Jim is better-liked.

Unique among other forms of waves, the Truck Wave is a casual yet precise acknowledgment from one member of the four-wheeled fraternity to another. Drivers of other vehicles need not attempt the Truck Wave. There is no mini-van wave. The Truck Wave is also mandatory, and must be executed to exacting standards. The palm of one hand must remain on the steering wheel near the top. Then, when meeting another truck along the road, three fingers of that wheel hand are briefly raised. Any additional enthusiasm is deemed suspect and comes with certain risks. Perform a Kid Wave out the window of a truck, and risk being pulled over by the authorities further on up the road.

The signs

There is a language spoken by the signs near my house. It is as far from bold neon as possible. In the country, the Old Social Media is subtle, mysterious and, of course, open for interpretation. There are three main groups of signs for stores.

(Any imaginable noun) and Things! Variety is the spice of life, and reading this sign means being drawn into a spicy hodgepodge of shopping fun. But like many things, fun is subjective. Any store with “And Things” on its sign could be telling you you’re in for a breezy, unpretentious stop. And it could also mean that the husband-and-wife owners have never agreed upon what to sell and have been fighting like cats and dogs about it for decades. Have a nice day.

(Any imaginable noun) and Stuff! Stores with “Stuff” sound a lot more disorganized and randomly stocked than the more specific “Things” stores. This is no problem for the truly uninhibited traveler seeking retail therapy. But it is likely that when it comes to inventory, “Stuff” signs say their owners were also unable to make up their minds.

(Any imaginable noun) and More! For those whom “Things” and “Stuff” simply will not suffice, the sign on this store has “More.” The “More” store says, “Just when you think you’ve seen it all, we have more. There is always more. We will never settle for ‘Things’ and ‘Stuff!’ We will always expect more! And so should you!” As charming as “More” stores are, few can meet those lofty expectations.

The lights

In my neighborhood, the ultimate Old Social Media is the often-overlooked house light. Much is communicated with the flick of a switch.

If the lights in the neighbors’ upstairs bedroom are on, the in-laws are visiting. No further communication is required. Proceed to DEFCON 4 and bring over red wine immediately.

If all the neighbors’ house lights are off, then nobody is home. This is an unspoken invitation to find the spare key and borrow the weed whacker from the garage.

If all the lights in their house are on, there is a celebration taking place. If you have not been invited it is because you never returned the weed whacker you borrowed from their garage the last time they were away.

As a boy I dreamed of running away to join the circus. My parents offered bus tickets and luggage in support. But for me, the allure of the real big top faded. Still, I understand those who feel like their lives today are front row, center for the circus atmosphere of social media that dominates our culture and our conversation.

There is no circus here at our end of this country cul-de-sac. The brightest lights are strung above our patios for summer cookouts. The grandest gesture is the wave my neighbor down the road sends me from atop his riding lawn mower. And the best sign is the “Welcome” sign that gently reminds all our friends and neighbors just how important they are in our lives every day here in the Finger Lakes.

by Mike Rusinko

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