Today, we are digitally hyper-connected. It is easier than ever to friend, follow or connect with family, friends, not-so-close friends, colleagues and even strangers.
Arguably one benefit of this hyper-connection is that we have the option to share and participate with others through writing, photos and videos. If a friend goes on a trip and posts a photo on a social network, I can join the experience via commenting, sharing and liking. Perhaps one of the downsides of this hyper-connection is that it creates a false sense of closeness with friends. Seeing a friend's holiday photos is not the same as being there and jumping into the swimming pool alongside them.
Digital hyper-connectedness cannot be a replacement for forging direct experiences with good friends. But it is not always easy to really connect.
Several years ago a close friend and I were bemoaning that it was becoming impossible to get our old group from high school together. There was always a good reason for someone not to be available. Firstly, the core six friends were geographically splintered across the country, from LA, Milwaukee, Chicago to New York which added to the need for planning well in advance. Secondly, all six were married and had young families and thus had heavy family responsibilities. Lastly, many of them just could not find the time because of the seemingly constant barrage of work.
Instead of letting our group drift apart, my friend and I hatched a plan and crafted a weekend-long sports festival titled the E-Town Olympics. The name is based on our hometown of Evanston, Illinois and abbreviated and hyphenated in a cheesy attempt to make it sound edgier.
The events of the E-Town Olympics are geared for middle-aged guys trying to relive glory days. On the Friday night when everyone arrives we play poker, everything from Texas Hold'em to a heavy wild card game we grew up with called Ron Roll Your Own. On Saturday the sports start. The group competes in basketball, tennis, volleyball and a local sport selected by the host. For example, when we held the event in Colorado we went whitewater rafting. And on Sunday we hobble around from the day before and play golf.
This summer is the ninth year of the E-Town Olympics. Each E-Town Olympic weekend has common characteristics as well as unique traits. Inevitably there is an argument over a line call or foul in some game and we all do our best John McEnroe impersonations. Anyone of us who for whatever reason is taking themselves too seriously for all the wrong reasons is the target of ruthless ribbing. There are rarely any amazing athletic feats but listening to the E-Town Olympics stories you would think we were talking about playing in the NBA Finals. The biggest winner receives some modicum of glory and the biggest loser has to organize and host the following summer's event.
The E-Town Games are now a set fixture in my summer calendar. For one weekend my friends, some of which are thinner in the hairline and all of which are thicker around the middle, are gangly teenagers once again grabbing inbound passes and cutting to the basket, albeit much more slowly than before.
I have heard from colleagues that they hold similar weekends every year. Maybe this is a movement. Perhaps it is time to form an Olympic federation. Joking aside, the Olympic format is not important. The idea of setting aside time for old friends is important, not just connecting with them via a digital platform. It is the reconnection that reaffirms and forges the friendship bonds. Let the games begin!
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