Wow, I haven't blogged here in quite a while, so for those still following, hi again. I have been spending my time doing tennis blogging and that has taken a bit of my time.
I want you to think about the following. Do you have an SO (significant other)? Do you have family? Do you have friends? Do you have coworkers?
Assuming you are monogamous, you have one SO. Now, pick 3 members of your family. Let's say, your parents, and a sibling. Pick 3 of your closest friends. Pick 3 coworkers.
Ask yourself how often you talk to your SO. Presumably, being your SO, this answer is a lot. You probably see or talk to your SO every day, perhaps for at least an hour.
Now, your coworkers. You might say "I have a job to do, so I have to talk to my coworkers". That might be an hour a day spread over the workday.
Now, your family. If you're reasonably close to your family, you probably talk to them once a week, and if not so close, but not completely alienated, you probably talk once a month. If your family is close to your distant relatives, even those you may not particularly care for, you may be obligated to see them and engage in small talk.
Now, your friends. How you answer depends, I suspect, very much on gender and your personality. In other words, if you are an introverted guy, this introversion, plus a sense of male pride (guys need to be independent) means as close as you may be with your friends, you might not actually keep in close contact at all.
This begs the question. How did you become close friends? One answer, which isn't surprising, is that you went to college with your friends, and you either studied with them, or you lived on campus, and arranged to live with your friends. Your living arrangements forced you to hang out with your friends, which forced your interaction level to be quite high. If your friends are even a few minutes away living in a dorm just over there, your interaction may go way down.
Now, there are those addicted to chat, and such interactions are more than likely, of the girl/guy variety. But I know quite a few people that dislike chat, dislike phone interaction, dislike email. All they like is interpersonal interactions. You can have a long engaging conversation face-to-face that lasts hours, but you'll be hard-pressed to duplicate such interactions in IM. There's just too much typing, thus too much work. And IM always seems like an interruption. You're trying to read a news article, or watch a funny cat video, or heaven forbid, get some work done.
In real life, you know you are talking to a person by themselves. They aren't engaged in something else, or at the very least, they are pausing it for your behalf. When you IM someone, they might be chatting with someone else, or doing any number of other things, and they might be a lot less willing to stop their discussion just to talk to you.
So how does that social dynamic work? You go from hanging out in the dorms where you get to do fun stuff for a period of time every day to ...? Well, once you leave that situation, you might get to everyone doing their own thing. This is one reason many people look to finding a SO to begin with. If your friends, upon going separate ways, won't even bother to talk to you once a week, then how to make up that interaction?
You take a bigger chance and find someone that is committed to being with you that time. Except this kind of relationship is almost always sexual in nature, or has that implication. It seems OK for early teens, bored with life, lacking close relationships to do stuff with their friends: watch movies, eat out, hang out someplace. Some folks are much better at this than others. They value their friendships and invite folks over all the time.
But to invite folks over requires two more skills. First, you should know how to cook. Second, you should be neat. Oh, and third, it helps to like conversation. All of these are skills that a typical geek doesn't have, especially the conversation bit. Even folks that are reasonably neat sometimes place high expectations of neatness on themselves and never feel their place is neat enough, and thus, never have guests over. I know the neatness aspect is a huge problem for me, but I've also hardly been invited to anyone's place.
What about email? I think several things put people off about email. One, the brain seems much more comfortable with the spoken word than the written word. Somehow, there are higher expectations placed on writing than reading. There is also interaction when you speak to someone that makes it feel like a social, human, bonding event.
Although email has become more ubiquitous, and this has lead to people writing short, terse mails akin to text messaging, there's still some pressure by those who fancy themselves writers to write something that is worth reading. Indeed, folks get writer's block and then decide email is a kind of writing and that their lives are a little too boring to read. In the end, no email is sent, and that's kinda sad too.
I've never had a sustained email contact with anyone, well, no more than a few months, which is pretty long in itself. You hear of husbands and wives a hundred years ago who exchanged letters for more than a decade, the experience savored over time. The convenience and speed of email should make that easier than ever, but the convenience and speed of email means there's no need to be that thoughtful. When you had snail mail, and the effort to exchange correspondence was very slow, there was a premium placed on the content put in letters.
I happen to grow up before email and remember sending and receiving the occasional snail mail. There was an expectation for letters to be 2-3 pages long at the very least. I remember my brother sending me many small pages in letters. The thought placed into such letters even over mundane topics was tremendous compared to the lack of thought placed in today's rapid emails.
Recently, a friend began using Google's video chat service. This has the convenience of not having to be installed. True, he has to be motivated to make the "call", but he has done so a few times. The advantage? You can talk! It brings back some of the immediacy of face to face conversation. When you do video chat, you find typing to be a nuisance. Things that you might not have typed, you can quickly ask. I find my brain engaged more in the act of conversation. Things I say, I wouldn't have typed. Why does the brain engage itself in such ways?
Ah, but what about real interaction? I've known some folks that seem to have pretty active social lives. Some of that comes from having roommates. While the notion of roommates is pretty uncommon in the US--everyone wants their own place, it is quite common in India where the inclination of the educated middle class just out of college is to save money. If you ask the recent graduate why they don't live by themselves, they scoff at the idea, exclaiming how expensive it is.
I'd love to see how their salary breaks down and to see whether living by oneself is truly expensive or whether Americans have left themselves to take huge chunks of their salary to living on their own. Perhaps the typical Indian graduate thinks their rent should be no more than 10% of their take-home pay, while Americans plunk down 30% to give themselves independence. I tend to believe it's the second. As an American, we spend too much money on our own housing to give ourselves independence.
I do know some folks that have roommates. Saving money, of course, is one big concern. The second is to have people around, to create a social environment that they may not have had since they were in college. Of course, for every good roommate, there is the potential for bad ones. This is why some folks have multiple roommates, to spread the potential for bad interaction out, and to have allies in case one person is a bad apple.
But such situations seems rare. Extroverts are rare almost by definition. Well, they're rare. They find more solace with doing activities with friends. They look for things to do, get together with friends, and head out. And, given the sexual innuendo that seems to seep in a typical American's life, many of these social occasions are a mix, with guys and girls, but sometimes not. The thing is, only fairly social extroverts seem to have the incentive to go out and do stuff and they seem to mostly hang out with other extroverts.
If I'm making a point, it's that although we are social creatures, there are impasses that prevent people from being social. Conservative cultures like India are culturally more social. There is a premium placed on meeting with people, and even the frowned-upon male-female interaction usually leads to guys doing stuff with guys and girls doing stuff with girls to make up for the lack of dating interaction. The pressure to save money causes guys and girls to live together and add social interaction to their lives. And of course, arranged marriages create that ultimate of connections.
On the other hand, in the US, there is some degree of shame calling people that are merely friends to do things. Many prefer skipping the uncertainty of friendship to the certainty of a relationship. They want several hours of committed time each week, as opposed to and uncertain number of hours with friends. So once that commitment occurs, that reduces the time to meet other people, and they too want to have a commitment. Pretty soon, you have many people in relationships that don't have time to hang out with one another.
Ironically, conservative societies tend to interact better. Why is that? To point to India again, although some couples are more enlightened and look to spend time with each other together sharing common activities, hundreds of years of men and women being segregated with guys doing guy stuff and women doing women stuff have lead to marriages where guys still want to do stuff with other guys and women want to do stuff with other women.
You would think a marriage would mean the guys really don't have time to spend with you, but the commitment deal has already been sealed. I play tennis with some fifty-something guys who seem eager to play tennis every day, meaning they want to spend time away from their wives to hang out with their male friends doing "male" activities. Although it's possible these wives could participate, they seem to avoid these male activities.
On the other hand, those who haven't committed to marriage, i.e., in a dating phase, even in a long-term relationship, feel the commitment of time is there, and spare time should not be willing given up to hang out with friends.
The point is, there's isn't exactly a platonic equivalent of a commitment between friends, which is too bad because I think many people would benefit from regular social interaction outside the workplace.
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