A few days ago, I received a bunch of emails from my high school alumni, reporting that the first reunion had taken place, with attachments of pictures and contact information. I told Joe about it. He was more excited than I was.

Joe has been in frequent contact with his high school buddies. There are about a dozen of them. Every time he goes back to Shanghai, the gang will organize an outing to the emerging tourist spots near Shanghai. Together they enjoy the fresh catch of seasonal seafood, alcoholic drinks and conversations. They usually stay overnight to eliminate the danger of drinking and driving. The conversations can get wild after a few drinks and I guess that’s why I have never been invited to these gatherings. Joe would come home with pictures and tell me who is who and who had a crush on whom in high school. Recently they started a WeChat group to stay more connected. And I have to say Joe has been hooked to the group chat. He knows everything that’s going on in China.

Maybe my husband wants me to have as much fun as he does. He took it upon himself to set up WeChat on my cell phone and sent out invitations to the people on the alumni list. A whole new world opened up. Thursday night my phone was beeping like crazy. I found myself exchanging messages simultaneously with multiple people whom I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years. Since most of them use nicknames and scenery shots as profile pictures, I had no idea who I was talking to.
One person nicknamed ‘Beach’ got overly excited.

“Zhuang Hongwei (my Chinese name), I remember you! Is your profile picture really you?”

Before I had time to answer. Another message popped up. “It is you. It is you. I can tell!”

I told ‘Beach’ that I’d be in Shanghai in October and I’m looking forward to meeting the old friends from high school. At the end of the conversation, I still had no clue whether ‘Beach’ is a guy or gal.

It has become a habit for Joe to reach for his phone the first thing in the morning when he wakes up. I joked that his smart phone had become his wife. Now I am starting to do the same thing. I pick up my phone to see how many readers visited my blog site the previous day, any news on Facebook or anything on twitter that is worth commenting. In the last couple of mornings, I also saw quite a few new messages via WeChat. I have to remember to mute the media volume, otherwise the phone will be beeping throughout the night because the 13-hour time difference between Shanghai and Chicago.

In the old days, our circle of friends was limited, only people who lived in the same village, or went to the same college or worked for the same company. Nowadays, Internet is enabling us to come together from different parts of the world. Friendship can be made at the tip of the finger. I saw one of my girlfriends shaking her phone, within seconds, someone from Israel messaged ‘hi’. Shaking is a gesture of wanting to find someone talk to. Can you imagine that even 10 years ago?

It’s not rare for an average teenager to have hundreds or even thousands of friends globally. At the same time, the true value of friendship seems to be discounted because of the effortlessness of making new friends. Facebook friends or Twitter followers may give people the illusion that they are popular and surrounded by friends. But many of them are pseudo and won’t stand the trial of life’s tribulations. Some Internet ‘friendship’ is dangerous and harmful.

Our true friends most of the time are right under our nose: our family and the few people who are physically and emotionally present through the thick and thin of life. Hold onto and treasure those relationships more than anything else.

Joe and I really don’t need to talk to each other much anymore because he has buddies online and when I write and in my flow, I prefer not to be interrupted. But we both know that our relationship is crucial to our continued happiness. That’s why we set up one night a week just to talk to and enjoy each other’s company. With both Jane and Michelle around to watch Jake, we are also able to go on dates occasionally.

Internet is slowly but surely taking a dominant role in our modern fast-paced life-style. We have to make a conscious decision to invest time and energy in the relationships that are important to us. It’s easier to let your fingers do the talk and hide your true self behind the screen. Only those close by really know who we are, and will tell us the truth even when it hurts and accept us unconditionally.

I am happy to have been connected with my high school friends, but I’ll stay hooked to my family and true friends.