A lot of folks like to compare messages in bottles to social media—particularly Facebook. Reporters often suggest that sending a message in a bottle is like the original “friend request” and that responding to one is like accepting it.
The more I think about it, though, the less this analogy makes sense to me. For one thing, most people (aside from spammers) only send friend requests to people they know in social media circles. In contrast, the whole point of what I do with messages in bottles is that we DON’T know each other beforehand! So, sending a message in a bottle is NOT like sending a friend request. I mean, just think about the friend requests you’ve gotten from strangers online–aren’t they pretty much always creepy? Or at least spammy? Besides, people send messages in bottles for lots of reasons–not just to make friends (though that’s why I like to find them 🙂 )
Really, if we have to compare messages in bottles to online social networking of any kind, I think they are much more like online dating. In both cases, you create a “profile” for yourself and send it out there (messages often include a description of the sender, both in terms of appearance and hobbies, etc.); in both cases, you don’t know the person on the other end of your communication; in both cases, you have some preconceived ideas about that person. Some people even include photos of themselves in bottles—though these rarely survive the sea and sun. And, of course, in the back of everyone’s mind is the possibility that the sender and finder of an MIB might fall madly in love.
That may sound like the stuff of fiction until you consider the case of Ake and Paolina Viking, who met through a message in a bottle sent by Ake and found by Paolina. After a fairly brief correspondence, they married! This was in the 1950s, long before Nicholas Sparks wrote his book.
Of course, I have found a few messages in bottles and haven’t married any of the senders–yet–so I guess maybe the online dating comparison doesn’t totally work, either.
But, for me, that’s precisely what is so special about this form of communication–there’s really nothing else like it on earth. Messages in bottles are analog, not digital; they are “organic”. The pure mind-blowing chance of finding a message in a bottle and befriending the sender is unique, and I cherish the whole experience.
Are there easier ways to make friends? Sure, probably.
But as for me–I’ve got bottles to open and people to meet!