So here's the deal. Most of us work because, well, everything runs on money. You want food? I guess you could grow your own, but that takes a lot of planning. So you spend money and you get food. Need a place to stay because, well, it's hard to just go out in the woods and just live unless you know what you are doing. And the place costs, yes, money.
Then, presuming you live in a society that produces goods and advertises such goods, you begin to covet. I want this, and I want that. And all that costs, yes, money.
For many folks, this money comes in a 9-to-5 job. Of course, there's no such thing as a 9 to 5 job anymore. With jobs occasionally scarce, the idea is work harder for more hours for the same pay. At least you have a job. But the point is, you spend 8 hours a day at work.
How much time does that leave? OK, let's say you have no kids because that's going to take a chunk of time out of your life. Maybe you need to be up by 7:30, wake up, shower, eat, assuming you want breakfast, and then do the dreaded commute. You live in a place that's affordable and work in a place that's not. So you spend an hour getting to work and an hour getting back from work. So maybe 3.5 hours just dealing with the logistics of getting to and fro.
So maybe you're back by 6, and then you have to think about cooking, or perhaps you eat out, or perhaps do a microwave dinner. Maybe you have a significant other. That leaves you 4-5 hours to spend time with them, which isn't insignificant, but is less than the time you were at work.
And perhaps, if you're not a complete recluse, you make friends at work. Humans are a social people, and we are at our most social when we are with other people. The awkwardness of not talking to people when you're around people is so overwhelming that we talk.
But are these really your friends? How much would you talk to these people outside of work? If I were to point out a work colleague, would you say "Yeah, he's a nice guy, friendly". Let's say you say that. Then, I ask, "do you talk to him outside of work". And you say "no". I ask "why not". And you say "I don't know. I guess I'm not that interested. Besides, he's married. Why would he talk to me?".
I was reminded that money makes "friends" of many people. Lately, in my respite between occupations, I've been taking tennis lessons. The guy who runs the company texts me, mostly because I'm worth revenue to his company. He wants to be nice. He wants to be helpful. He's checking up on how I'm doing. Were there not money tied to this situation, he would have no reason to make this effort. Business, you see, makes people friendly.
There's one peculiar exception that plays on the desire to communicate that is separate from work. It's college. If you choose to stay in dormitories, you are now surrounded by many people of a similar socio-economic status. And many dorms encourage roommates. Living with others compels you to talk to them, and usually, people will pick friends or at least make friends with those near them.
How often do people make friends because they just happened to be assigned to the same dormitory? Quite often. That's because it's awkward to go to a random dorm, hang out, just to meet people from that dorm. People want you to be there with a reason. That's why you talk to people at work, and not to people at some other workplace (though, I have seen some people show enough cojones to do just that, mostly because they caught sight of a pretty lass that they wanted to talk up).
As much as people excel in communication when in proximity to dormmates or to co-workers, they fare poorly once distance is added.
Ask yourself who you talk to most? For most folks, it might be a spouse, or a significant other, and then, there's your parents. For as much as you may like or dislike your parents, there's some obligation to talk to them. They have experience in the world. They spent time raising you. You feel bad not talking to them.
Short of folks who hate their parents, this is a pretty normal. No complaints, right?
So now make a list of people you consider to be your friends. Some live near you, and so you could, in principle, go out and do things. Some are just far enough away that getting together is a bit of a hassle. Some are too far away, so the only way to communicate is to use technology.
You would think technology would be wonderful. Phone, texting, IM, email. And yet, there are plenty of people who hate this. And the etiquette works out that you can ignore people using any of those formats. Before answering machines came around, when the phone rang, you picked it up. After the answering machine came around, you'd have phone spammers and then you didn't want to pick up the phone.
Phone spammers ruined the innocence of the phone. But once you had an answering machine, you could let the machine record the message and you could see who it was. And, of course, now that many people have cell phones, you get caller ID and can figure out, for the most part, who is calling you.
So now you see who calls you and you can decide "I don't want to talk to them". Email is pretty much the same. IM likewise. Indeed, the only awkward refusal is face to face. If I come up to you and say "hi", it would be rude of you to ignore me. But every other technological way to communicate and you can feel free to ignore me.
The primary reason this has happened is because face-to-face interaction involves recognizing what the other person is doing. If they're busy, then maybe you don't interact. And there is a limited interaction. You can't have 10 people talk to you at once in person, but on IM, you could. On IM, you can't see what the other person is doing. Maybe they're watching a movie. Maybe they are listening to music. Maybe they are talking to another friend.
So back to your list of friends. How many do you keep in regular contact? How much time do you spend a week? Is the answer zero? Why? Why do you have co-workers you'd never spend time outside of work and spend a non-trivial amount of time with them, but spend zero time with those you consider your friends?
I suppose the answer is partly convenience and partly embarrassment. Some folks don't like to talk. That's it. They'll hang out with you at a movie, or a concert, at some location where there's not much interaction, but to them, that's doing something. But if you have to talk, just talk, well, that doesn't feel right, and so it doesn't happen.
Part of it is embarrassment. What would you talk about? Somehow these questions don't seem to come up when you bump into these folks in real life, and yet, on a phone or on IM, the words become scarce. People treat the phone as a planning device. When do you want to meet? Can I do something for you? And so forth.
So why does this happen? Do you feel bad that the only people you talk to, outside of a handful of people, are your coworkers? We say we value our friends, but do we?
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