Monday, September 06, 2004

Isolated… ated… ated.

People are people persons. The desire for social interaction, relationships and companionship was breed into us from our evolutionary past and still exists today. For thousands and thousands of years, humans lived in social groups, not to hang out at the local Pleistocene mall, but for survival. No human can survive alone. There are various degrees of dependency, but if someone does not take care of you when you come out, you probably will not do too well. We needed each other for protection, food procurement, and wanted each other for a more enjoyable way to release endorphins. As our society changed, the helpful hands of others became hidden. I would assert that it is still the case that no human can survive alone, but after a certain age, they can manage to go without interaction with others. Isn’t technology great? Consequently, it is true that some people are socially reclusive, but they are few are far between, with the majority of people desiring and wanting friends, a family, and even just human contact. Those that do shun society are usually angry, insecure or simply highly meditative. I believe the troubled ones would often like social interaction, but do not know how to do this and/or are scared of being psychologically hurt by some form of rejection by others. When people say, “kids can be so cruel,” they really should not limit their generalization by age.

A curious thing has happened; there are now simulations of sorts and various degrees of what counts as a real interaction with a person. Some people find their friends in books or on TV, while others on the Net. As for the first two, the characters one reads about or watches are not real, but fascinatingly they bring many friendship-like comfort and entertainment. TV is definitely the more insidious of the two. The people on TV are always there. They will not reject us, and they always approve. Why bother with real people when you have access to ‘friends’ who are usually smarter, happier, funnier and more attractive than any real friend could be? (Or dumber and weirder, which then makes us feel better.) Well, the quick answer is that you would be living in a fantasy land, and it will only lead to false expectations that will cause problems in your actual interactions. Interestingly, the actors who play these characters cannot even live up to who they portray. The problem is both one of capability and the medium of TV that tends to distort all it presents. You might say “Yes, by definition of them being ‘actors’ that is likely true. So what?” I would then say your words are an obvious statement that is not often realized, so it is good to often repeat it.

The interactive nature of the Internet is what makes it closer to actually talking to people. Here one can talk to anyone from anywhere in the world. Of course, ‘talk’ usually means type, ‘anyone’ means anyone wealthy enough to have Internet, and ‘anywhere’ means any country or county that is wealthy enough to have the infrastructure to support the technology. That being said, the possibilities are nearly endless. The cost of communicating across long distances greatly decreases while access to people who might have your interests greatly increases. The latter could be very important to individuals who feel distinct and may have a limited sample of people with which to interact. But there is a catch: anonymity. By this I mean that people may lie and there is no way for you to check. I think the majority of Net users are (mostly) honest about who they are and what their life is about, but there is also the problem of poseurs. This practice ranges from people just having fun and playing ‘dress up,’ to the very frightening and horrid molester looking to lure. Variations on the former are not problematic, unless you want to have meaningful interactions. The nature of this anonymity leads to the other fact: physical distance from those with whom you interact. This in turn leads to a psychological distance. With a psychological distance in place, the customary social protocol diminishes or dissipates. People feel freer to act. Good for those who were previously too shy to approach others, bad for everyone else who is now more easily harassed. I would say that the defining point is that people care less. If one were searching for greater meaning, it would be understandable that one would be wary of a communicative medium that automatically reduces the level of caring involved when interacting with others. The Internet provides a plethora of interactive possibilities, but caution is urged regarding the sincerity of those experiences.

While the aforementioned media offer various options, I believe that most humans probably prefer the old-fashioned approach: meeting people ‘in person.’ The experience of meeting someone face-to-face is unparalleled, and potentially will be forever, but likely to remain unchallenged for at least the next 50 years. The reason for this is humans have many different ways of communicating aside from constructed language. A crinkle of the forehead, roll of the eyes, flip of the hair, kick in the shins (just seeing if you’re awake) and a curve of the lips are just some of the myriad ways people communicate with one another without saying a word. Most of the time this accelerates the communication process. Situations of blushing or expressing surprise may make us feel that our bodies say things we would prefer they kept secret. Less walls, more openness. While this can be scary for many, the rewards are much greater. An experience can be made memorable or even acquire worth just by the nature of it being shared. Whether it be a conversation, movie, sports game, book, people watching or nature exploration/appreciation, doing it with someone compatible is more enjoyable. (Conversations are usually better with someone else. I for one hate talking to myself, I somehow always manage to lose arguments.) But what does this notion of ‘compatible’ mean? I think compatibility is best described by two people that have sufficient overlap on a variety of experiences, inclinations, beliefs, hobbies, and ideologies to warrant an interaction that results in an overall positive experience. With an additional postulate that they may only need sufficient overlap in one category to have a positive experience within that category, and allow the non-overlapping parts to remain inactive both by environment and decision. What counts as sufficient overlap? That is a question only you can answer.

For some people, as long as another has a few similar interests, they will interact with this person and become good friends. Others are more selective. Such criteria could be about religion, lifestyle, occupation, disposition/outlook, politics, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, intelligence, hobbies, physicality, openness, and probably the biggest one which links some of the others-positions on issues of ethics and values. It must also be mentioned that there are varying degrees of compatibility. Some criteria will be fulfilled, others not and yet beautiful friendships can result. One need not find 100% overlap in all areas; it is unlikely and may actually be undesirable in the sense of seeking at least some novelty from interacting with another. Alternatively, some issues are going to be deal-breakers: those criteria which will prohibit future interaction with another or at least in the context of a decent friendship/relationship. Once again, the question of deal-breakers is a personal one.

I myself (what an interesting two words to start a sentence) have numerous near deal-breakers. I say ‘near’ because if other aspects of a person are highly valuable to me, there can be sufficient overlap for friendship. Different categories will bring about different degrees of attraction or repulsion to different people. Of course, if most people engage in a certain behaviour, those that do not will feel somewhat isolated from the crowd. Obviously this depends on the context, for even in a zero-overlap environment other factors can happily coincide and a pleasant time can be experienced. I would say that the more unique one’s criteria, the greater difficulty they will encounter in finding sufficient overlap for friendship. This situation would be exacerbated if one of the aforementioned unique criteria were a demand for greater overlap than most others. As well, once you’ve known what a great friendship/relationship is like, or seen how it could be possible, it is hard to accept otherwise.

I value thinking, introspection and silliness. I am trying to actualize my potential and be as real to myself as I can. I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I dislike the idea of using a chemical substance to achieve a preferred psychological state. I am a naturalist and think that a God is not necessary to have the beauty or meaning that people want. I am trying keep the number of my sexual partners down, not raise it. I don’t not feel patriotism/nationalism is a good thing, nor are separations along racial or ethnic lines. I don’t watch sports, value fancy cars or most materialistic goods. I try to reject the societal urge to impress others by being a ‘big man’ and all that that entails. I have an extended sense of self, try to respect people and think about the consequences of my actions. I think about others in the world and how I only have first world problems and that in turn highly impacts on my actions. It is hard to find sufficient overlap.

I guess I could have just written “I’m lonely sometimes,” but I felt that wasn’t explanatory enough. Additionally, I think it might be presuming just a little too much to ask for you to infer two and a half pages of thoughts. ;)

Sound bite
If you want to feel divided from others do the following:
1) Reject materialism (commercial)
2) Embrace materialism (philosophical-scientific).


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