About mid-career, I realized one day that I was passing my friends in the hall without making eye contact. If I did, I would stop and chat and that would take 2-3 minutes (or more) out of preparing lecture plans or research. If I did that 15-20 times a day, we would be talking about major time loss for an academic. Academics have two jobs, after all: teaching and research. Add a family and house-repair on top of that and the time squeeze becomes a major one.
Upon retirement, I found myself not only talking more with friends but adding to that crucial and interesting group. My circle of friends began to expand. As I built the alphaDictionary Agora, Dr. Goodword’s blog, joined Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, and Twitter, and added these contacts to my circle of friends here in Lewisburg and around the world and my alphaDictionary e-mail friends, I began finding myself having more and more difficulty keeping up with everyone. Will all the various types of social networking made possible by the Web lead to acquaintaince overload?
Friendship should be close, between people who know each other and enjoy company and conversations with them. But the brain has limitations. It is stuck in the skull so there is only so much it can retain. Don’t get me wrong. There are millions of interesting people in the world and I would love to be acquainted with them all. Now that we actually have the tools to do that, do we have the time and mind space required?
I write this because I have grown quite close to people I’ve never met and I really don’t understand what that means. Of course, when we communicate via websites and e-mail we present ourselves at our very best. Friends generally know our shortcomings and love us despite them. Perhaps this is the attraction of the Internet: we can protray ourselves at our best, shuck off our warts and create a new and shining self. We connect by our common points and delight to discover how many of them there are.
The question then follows, will these new and shiny selves that we create on line actually become us? Will we arise in a new decency that we never realized was in us as a result of the Web? That isn’t clear in light of the many genually evil websites out there, websites that protray the worst human beings can be.
I suspect as time grinds on, we will discover that most of us share most of our most important features. We will discover that we are all in this together. Together. That is not a bad thing that should make us angry, but a very good one. But then on a halcyon and idyllic autumn day like today I can’t help being a cock-eyed optimist.