Woog’s World / Preserving memories in the digital age
Google+ has been dying for years. As of April 2, it’s officially dead.
The social network that was supposed to challenge Facebook — first announced with great flourish in 2011 — never caught on. It did not fill a perceived need. Who needed one more place to hang out online (especially in a place so cringeworthily named “Hangouts”)?
So as of April 2, Google+ will be phased out. Profiles, photos, videos, events, communities — they’ll all go the way of Myspace.
I don’t know where exactly that is. I’m not tech-savvy enough to understand what happens when a virtual meeting place ceases to exist. It’s not as if it actually existed in the first place, right?
What was it: a collection of bits and bytes that somehow transformed itself into words, images, comments, reactions, information and what not? What made Facebook more welcoming than Google+? And what do we lose when an online community dies?
I have no idea. I’ll leave that to the philosophers, Wired Magazine writers and now-fired Google employees who get paid to think about such things.
But I do know what it’s like when a place I once hung out at disappears from the real world.
Back in the day, I was a Burr Farmer. That was my elementary school. It was an actual, physical place, located on Long Lots Road directly opposite North Morningside. That’s why — to answer a question I’m sometimes asked, in my role as unofficial town historian — there’s something called Burr School Road, though today there is no school in sight.
Once upon a time, of course, there was. It sat just north of where athletic fields are now, on the site of a couple of houses that once seemed huge, but now are just average Westport McMansions.
Burr Farms was not a beautiful school. It was, to be blunt, quite ugly. A multicolored exterior and large windows could not hide the fact that it was a steel school, erected very hastily from pre-fab panels at a time when Westport’s school population seemed to swell daily. The innovative idea was that the panels could be unscrewed, then rearranged to create new configurations adaptable as needed to changing educational models and trends.
It never happened, of course. When the baby boom ended, and our school population ebbed as quickly as it had flowed a quarter-century earlier, Burr Farms was consigned to history. Town fathers anticipated the money they would make when the school was unscrewed for the last (and first) time, with all that steel sold for scrap.
Town fathers did not anticipate that, in the 25 years the school had not been unscrewed, time had taken its inevitable toll. The bolts had rusted. Carefully taking the panels apart was not an option. Burr Farms was torn down, just like any other piece of junk.
But when the rusted bolts, ugly panels and all the rest were hauled off, something remained. It was a lot more than a hole in the ground.
Like probably every other elementary school in the country, Burr Farms seared itself into the memory of all who went there. The meandering hallways. The too-small gymnasium, with its climbing ropes, swinging hoops and pull-up bar above the tiny locker room. The welcoming library, where Mr. Rudd knew just what book to recommend (and did it with a poem and a smile). The “cafetorium,” with its small stage, big tables and indefinable, unforgettable elementary school-food-and-milk smell.
My two other Westport schools have changed too, less dramatically, but still irrevocably. Long Lots Junior High School is now Long Lots Elementary. The tin 200 wing is long gone, burned to the ground in the 1970s by a troubled student. The wood and metal shops down in the basement was repurposed years ago. The stage at one end of the gym was, thankfully, replaced too with what is still one of the finest auditoriums in town.
I could write an entire book about the Staples High School of yesteryear (oh wait, I already did). My classmates, friends and many other Westporters from 1958 to 1979 remember nine separate buildings, connected by open-air, weather-affected walkways. Staples students from 1980 to 2005 recall one big, low-slung bricked-in building, which quickly morphed from modern to moldy.
The current Staples — three stories, airy, handsome, and very, very humongous — bears absolutely no connection to its predecessors (apart from the auditorium, gym, and a pathetic little sign visible only from the interior courtyard).
Still, this is the digital age. The old Staples, old Long Lots and old Burr Farms all live on. You can find pages — “communities” — filled with photos and comments, all dedicated to them on Facebook.
There may once have been similar pages too on Myspace.
You won’t find them on Google+, however. At least, not after April 2.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.