Monday, September 20, 2010


Every generation chafes a bit at the introduction of some new ideas and ways of doing things. I can only imagine the angst over sliced bread or motor vehicles. Some changes have been welcomed ones, like electricity, seat belts, refrigerators, and on line bill paying, to name a few, as they truly made life easier or safer. The internet and smart phones have opened up a whole new world of connectivity and communication. But while many of us eventually embrace and utilize the “new” (as I have obviously embraced the internet), we may still have problems with changes that seem to move us further and further away from face-to-face human contact.

We are now in a period where we use the word “friend” to refer to people with whom we have even the remotest or fleeting relationship. We may have only “met” them on-line or once years ago, yet we label them with a word that denotes a familiarity that does not exist. But the truth is, we are increasingly operating on our own, without the joys of the handshaking, warm hug, flesh and blood interaction.

Recently, I was shopping in a grocery store in the southern U.S. When the clerk reached for my cart and began to take out the groceries, for a moment, I did not know what to do. In a world of self-check-out and self-check-in, there are fewer and fewer people to ask questions of, to converse with, to offer or receive a smile. Customer service used to be delivered, now it is something you have to seek and find, and only if you can’t “do it yourself.” While employers rejoice in their ability to reduce staff and increase their profit margins, some of us long to have the chance to get some help every now and then and leave feeling good about the human experience.

With the advent of “smart meters”, we have lost the monthly wave to the meter reader. With the increase in computer usage, we have lost the pleasant relationships we may have had with the local grocer and bookseller, and we are about to lose the daily exchange of pleasantries with our mail carrier.

I worked in Downtown Oakland for many years and developed wonderful relationships with shopkeepers, florists, store clerks and the like. Those contacts sometimes only consisted of a wave from the window as I passed by, but they always made me feel more alive and part of the great human fabric. Over the years I received so much from those encounters. I got my shoes repaired by “Big Willie” while he played the blues for me and we sang at the top of our lungs. I received a beautiful blue rose from a florist who thought that it would look good with the outfit I wore that day. I sipped Kenya AA at a coffee shop and helped the owner pick out new tiles for her bathroom. To this day, when I walk into a popular Oakland City Center eatery, I am greeted with a big hello from one of the long time employees. And at another, the owner lets me sit at a table in the kitchen to eat while we chat. You don’t get that kind of interaction on line or in a text or on a reader or on an “app.” While these things are useful, none of them is going to ring your doorbell with a surprise box of those decadent Godiva cupcakes (hint hint), or bring you soup and talk to you when you are not feeling well.

It’s as though we are physically being pulled away from each other in the name of easy and fast and more and now and me. It means that we will have to be more diligent about maintaining and nourishing our encounters and real friendships. It means that we as we use the current and future technology to enhance our lives, we can never let the “virtual” substitute or separate us from the “real.”

I am convinced that people will always need people, and islands of real interaction will always exist. I have faith that we will always be wired to have the ability and desire to leap over the chasm so we can still look into each other’s eyes.

We will surely face a lonely and empty existence if we let the great divide get so wide that it keeps us apart.

Sheryl J. Bize Boutte


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Peace and Love

Him sitting in the car under the brutal sun

His mouth a straight line of impatience

The hair curling on the back of his neck from the humidity

As he waits

Her floating from the house

In her sweet summer dress and sparkling sandals

Delicate fingers enclose the knob on the red door

Glorious and all legs

She owns the steps

One by one

He smiles and pretends to not have been irritated

Sheryl J. Bize Boutte


Wednesday, September 8, 2010


One of my daughter’s friends recently posted an article that listed the 10 commandments for using Facebook. It included things like not posting embarrassing photos, avoiding self-promotion, proposing to or dumping anyone, and other great advice for the legions of twenty and thirty somethings who flood the site. It prompted me to think about the increasing number of baby boomers like me who use Facebook and what our “Facebook etiquette” might be. Here is my list and I hope other boomers will comment and enhance:

1. Don’t “friend” your children’s “friends” unless you are expressly invited to do so. Just because they hung out at your house in junior high does not mean they are now your “friends.” This generational mix can sometimes backfire, embarrass your children and/or you, or result in postings that may make you uncomfortable. As my boomer sister says, “stay in your own lane,” with your own “friends” and your Facebook life will be fine.

2. Don’t fill your entire page with” Farmville”, “Farkle” or other Facebook game results. Make use of the “do not post to my wall” button as you play. Otherwise, it makes you look like you have nothing else to do, and quite frankly, it’s annoying.

3. Don’t send “friend” requests to people who are “friends of friends” unless you know them. Getting “friend” invitations from “friends of friends” is at best impolite and at worst, creepy. Also don’t hijack your “friends”, “friends “if you were never “real” friends to begin with. It's just not cool.

4. Don’t “unfriend” people to carry out personal wars on Facebook. Make sure that when you do it, it’s for a legitimate reason like disrespect, language, or subject matter you do not approve of. If the affront is serious enough or signifies a pattern of bad Facebook or non-Facebook behavior, it probably goes beyond this social site and should be taken care of off-line.

5. Don’t make the mistake that Facebook “culture” is the same for you as it is for the younger set. It isn’t. Certain subject matter that you may find offensive or unwise is perfectly ok with younger users. So don’t preach to them about what they write on Facebook. Do it in a private email if you feel you must and let the friend-chips fall where they may. You can avoid much of this if you follow rule #1.

6. Use moderation when you post pictures of your grandchildren. If you have to post photos of them using a separate program that requires a separate user name and password, you have probably gone too far. Also don’t post countless pictures of your dog, your cars, your yard, or your trip to the zoo with the grandchildren and the dog in the car. Be selective. Enough already.

7. Don’t use your high school picture as your profile picture. Everyone knows you don’t look like that anymore.

8. Don’t post long, meaningless, flowery soliloquies that you found in some Hallmark card that you are trying to make people think you wrote yourself. Believe me, people usually know you did the old cut and paste.

9. Don’t be upset if an old friend or coworker ignores your request to be their “friend.” Either they don’t remember you, don’t like you, or remembered that they don’t like you. Move on.


Do enjoy the social networking experience. Do use it to connect with your friends, old and new, and to share your life’s journey. Do provide them with comfort when they need it, and rally the cheers for them and their successes. Have fun with the experiences sites like Facebook can bring.

And no, I did not respond to my daughter’s friends’ posting. I just pushed the “like” button. Enough said.