Isolating? Technology Keeps My 60-Year Friendships Fresh

We elderly people do a pretty good job of embracing technology, especially when you consider that, growing up, our only experience with technological devices consisted of radios and rotary dial telephones. Now, we use Google and email, send iMessages and tweets, set up websites and blogs. We may be a little intimidated by each new device and slow at mastering the apps, but we soldier on, determined to take advantage of the gadgets that enable us to easily connect with one another and access information instantly. Unlike young people, we are in awe of what technology has wrought.

But here’s a benefit I never expected: A game, Words With Friends, has allowed my college roommate and me to recapture the intimacy that we shared during our years living together at Pomona in the ’50s. And by intimacy, I mean being closely aware of one another’s daily lives and witnessing the same quirks and habits of mind we exhibited as roommates as those we experience when playing a game.

(Words With Friends is like Scrabble, but you play it with an opponent on a computer, cell phone or tablet. It’s the game that Alec Baldwin was playing when he was thrown off a plane for refusing to turn off his cell phone.)

During our college days, my roommate and I were quite a pair: me majoring in science, Susan in English literature; me focusing on the goal, Susan being easily distracted; me completing assignments early, Susan in a last-minute rush. I was the business-before-pleasure plodder while she enjoyed whatever pleasure presented itself. I clearly remember helping her type a paper one night—due in the morning—because she’d been waylaid by a keg party.

After graduation, in 1958, we both married and started families, as was common in those days before the Pill and the women’s liberation movement. Following our husbands’ leads, we went our separate ways, she to the East, me remaining in the West. Though we lived far apart, we continued to stay in touch through letters and occasional visits.

For years, our lives focused on raising our children and managing our homes. Then things changed: We both got divorced and started careers, Susan as an occupational therapist, I as a technical writer—oddly, she ended up mastering anatomy and I became the writer. Through it all, we continued with letter writing—real letters—and visits, but these were few and far between. While both of us have moved around a bit, she has essentially stayed on the East Coast and I on the West Coast. That’s how it stands now.

For my 75th birthday four years ago, I got an iPad from my kids. One of my daughters introduced me to Words with Friends. I, in turn, introduced the game to Susan, who acquired an iPad shortly after I did. And so it began.

We are fierce competitors. But our styles, as witnessed in college, follow our age-old patterns. Susan enjoys dawdling over the board, looking for the best possible play. I, in my impatience, just want to get on with it. Susan keeps track of letters played; I don’t want to take the time. We’re pretty well matched, although she’s the better player (she would not agree with that assessment). 

The thing is, we play daily, even when we’re on trips. That’s where the intimacy comes in—the near-constant connectedness. We play first thing in the morning and before turning in at night. We play on and off during the day, sometimes in almost non-stop sessions while we do other things on the side (we’re playing as I write this). Because of the chat function, we’re attuned to each other’s routines and activities. I know when she’s going to tap dancing class; she knows when I’m off to golf. We applaud each other’s little triumphs and sympathize with the occasional woe. We have philosophical discussions. It’s almost like sharing a room.

I know that young people—and maybe older people too—keep in near-constant contact through texting and other new modes of communication. Perhaps you’re building the same kind of relationship that Susan and I enjoyed in our college dorm room. In our case, nearly 60 years have gone by, yet the relationship endures, reinvigorated by playing a game. If you’re lucky, the friendships you have right now may be those you will be cherishing 60 years from now. And surely new technology, as yet unimagined, will make it possible to keep those friendships vibrant. 

Connie [Stoppel] Leas (Pomona 1958) worked as a technical writer for a variety of Silicon Valley companies until her retirement and is the author of Fat: It’s Not What You Think (Prometheus Books, 2008). She lives in Boulder Creek, California. She is also Pomona’s first ever female cheerleader.

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