Face to Face 

In a city like Memphis, everyone is connected.

I have 146 friends. And counting.

Of course, some of my friends are people I've never met. Some of my friends are actually my family. And some of my closest friends aren't my friends at all.

Such is the nature of Facebook, a social networking site that allows users to "connect and share with the people in your life." (And, though Facebook doesn't advertise this, people who aren't in your life. Yet. But they will be.)

I got into Facebook via my sister. She spent last summer in Europe, and her camera was stolen early in her trip. To see her photos, purloined from her friends' cameras, one just needed to log onto Facebook.

There's a lot to like about Facebook. There's the photo sharing that initially drew me in. You can see what your friends are doing or thinking about, if they're in a relationship, and exactly how old they really are. To the day. Heck, West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin reportedly even has a deal to make a movie about it.

(The thing where people "tag," or identify, you in a horrible photo and inevitably all your "friends" see it before you can untag yourself — that I like less. And whatever you do, don't comment on those bad pictures or you bring extra attention to them.)

All its features aside, Facebook makes something explicit I've long thought: Memphis is one giant small town.

Ever since logging in, I find myself having conversations with friends, acquaintances, and yes, family members that concentrate on one central question: "Do you know so-and-so? They just friended me, and I saw they were your friend, too."

It's the social networking equivalent of a cop canvassing the neighborhood. Only they're trying to figure out how, or if, you both know this person.

When a friend and I replayed a version of this conversation a few days ago, I was once again struck by what a tightly woven community Memphis is, even before the worldwide web.

She asked me about one of my Facebook friends, because she was wondering if he was one of these people who friends everyone their friends are friends with.

I said I didn't know but told her what I could about him. It turned out she had been friends with him in high school and thought that he had friended me through her.

Last week, I walked into a coffee shop to interview someone I had never met. I saw a person who was about the right age, the right gender, and she had a copy of the Flyer on her table. She looked up as I approached, so I asked her if she was the person I was meeting.

She wasn't. But then I realized that I knew her anyway, in part because her face always pops up on my "People You May Know" feature on Facebook.

I've long had this idea to link Memphians with a cluster diagram, such as: Blair is married to Chuck, who worked with Nate, whose sister is Serena, who was in a book club with Veronica, who started an advocacy group with Blair.

Or: Brenda used to work with Kelly, who then worked on a project with Steve, who teaches at the University of Memphis, where Brendan goes to school, and Brendan is cousins with Dylan, who dated Brenda.

Once you start looking at the connections, it can be a veritable soap opera.

I mean, if it take six degrees of separation to connect everyone in the world, it probably only takes one or two to link everyone in Memphis.

The irony is that, for all the connections, I often think of Memphis as a bifurcated city. For starters, there is our joint government, which makes people choose between city interests and county ones.

Though legal segregation ceased long ago, self-segregation still exists. There seem to be two Memphises, divided along color lines. I think it's gotten better since I first moved here, and certainly initiatives like Wendi Thomas' Common Ground are helping, but you can still see the division in restaurants, churches, and meetings.

And in a town as small as Memphis, that seems like a big problem.

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