Pedantic Semantics

Not at all pretentious

Reversing Reality

Posted by Paul on August 7, 2011

Human beings are a funny bunch. We have evolved to be intensely social, yet we divide our social groups so that, barring a twist of fate, these groups will never cross paths. Well, the twist of fate is here, and every friend of ours can interact with every other friend by the click of a mouse. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then why didn’t you tell anybody about your time machine back in 2006?

So, readers, from today and five years ago, something to keep in mind is that, way back when we all used to live in little villages, we only lived in groups of around one hundred fifty people. That’s why that’s the maximum number of people we can successfully integrate into our relationship sphere (give or take). It’s true. It’s science. That doesn’t mean we can’t have connections beyond that, it just means those connections won’t be quite as meaningful. That’s fine. If you look at most people’s Facebook  friend tally, they usually only have 50 to 250 people in there, anyway.

The thing is, somewhere between the stone age, when we had Facebook friend-sized communities, and now, when we have Facebook friend communities, we started  more and more  to live in towns, and  then cities. In the village, everyone has similar beliefs, everyone has connections with everyone else. The overall range of experience for everybody is fairly limited. In cities, you have thousands of people, people who have come from different villages, with different ranges of experience. In village times, Og knew Grog, and Grog knew Ogina, and they all knew Gorg as well. They all hung out together rendering animal fat or whatever passed for a fun Friday night in 100,000 BC. But when Grog’s descendant moved to Ur, there were a lot of people he’d never met. These were people largely different from those in the “village experience”. Grog’s descendant, let’s call him Bob, may find that he likes some of these different people, but not those different people over there on the eastern side of town. Or, if not out and out disliking them, at least figuring he doesn’t have much in common with them and knows they’d bore him at parties. However, sometimes Bob’s new buddy, let’s call him Enkidu, hangs out with one of those people, let’s call that person Jeptha. And one of Jeptha’s friends likes this new epic poetry thing which, in Enkidu’s opinion, is pretentious crap.

So fine. People start developing segregated circles of friends. Bob can talk with Enkidu about their shared interests, and Bob can then go talk to that cute temple prostitute from Nineveh about the things they both like. Everybody wins and has friends, and nobody has to subject one set of friends to another set of friends, which would just embarrass everyone involved. And of course, Mom and Dad back home in Grogville don’t have to know about any of it.

It’s how we live today. You enjoy hunting with your buddy Steve, and you enjoy talking independent film with your girlfriend’s vegan brother, Joe. But you know that Steve and Joe would find each other boring, at best. The hard truth is, while the simplest human being on Earth is a massively complex person that makes Constantin Levin look like Bella from Twilight, we tend to form friendships with most others based on a small sliver of their total personality. Linda likes Jane because Jane is funny and loves Japanese horror, but Jane can keep her damn scrapbooking to herself. It’s when we connect to people in more than just the ways that first drew them to us that real, lasting relationships are formed, and we often don’t mix even our closest friends. It’s usually not malicious either, we just don’t figure there’s really any reason to. Heck, I’ve known the two people I consider my closest friends for both over a decade, and they’ve never once met each other. I’m not rushing to do so, either, because my guess is they just wouldn’t have a whole heck of a lot to talk about.

The thing is, they could talk. Right now. Right this second, with minimal effort. And therein lies the core of how the new reality of friendship is like the old, except it’s like the old distorted by a funhouse mirror.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook that I felt In 3D was Weird Al’s best album, and what followed was a heated argument with my brother’s coworker on one side, and my brother and two people from a forum I rather enjoy visiting (and neither of whom I’ve met face to face) on the other. I’ve got family, coworkers, former coworkers, best friends, old friends, friends of friends, friends on the internet, and friends I haven’t seen in twenty years all able to see what the others are like and, God forbid, interact with each other. Twenty years of nigh-instinctual keeping all my different circles of friends apart, all undone through deciding to join a site to ostensibly keep up with people I care about that live out of state. It all kind of snowballed from there.

So here we are. We have every person we know that gave enough of a shit to sign up for this service on our friends list. We know every thing that they have decided is news worthy (because apparently the string of non sequiturs we throw at each other qualifies as a “News Feed”), and we ignore most of it. That’s right, we have reconsolidated our city into a village, so that we may expressly ignore most of it.

I guess what I’m mainly trying to figure out is whether Facebook is part of our jourmey, or our ultimate destination. For Mark Zuckerburg and his compatriots, it is most assuredly a destination: for cold, hard cash. But I am more concerned about us, that is me and you and everyone we know. Is letting everyone we care about see who everyone else we care about is  the point of this grandest of experiments since democracy, or is this just an experiment in narcissism, telling everyone what we had for dinner and what we picked on the bar’s jukebox.

I desperately want to land on the side of the new village, where we all become a force for reason in this increasingly unreasonable country, just as Jon Stewart attempted with his own social experiment less than a year ago.It would make the undoing of my (and everyone else’s) social segregation worth something. Only time will tell, but there are several people that can make it tell true. I think you know what I mean. I mean you.

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