Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some half-baked ideas to go with my half-baked dinner

This is going to be a very half-formed, half-baked post, because I'm trying to fit it into the fifteen minute transition period I left myself between finishing working for the day and getting to a friend's house for dinner.

The general idea, though, is that it struck me recently that the relationships we have in the blogosphere in some ways resemble the networks that have probably existed for most of human history -- up until we all moved to the big bad cities, that is.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I'm entirely atypical in the number and intensity of my real-life friendships. I can only think of two or three people who I make a real effort to check in with every single day and who I think about even more often than that. Then there are around 10 others who I try and catch up with once or twice a week and at least the superficial details of whose lives I make an effort to keep up-to-date with. Most other acquaintances are ones I run into or hear from once every few months, or once a year, and although I know vaguely how they are (healthy/ill/dead), what they do for a job, and who they live with, that's about all.

Back before the big urban sprawly things we all live in came into being, these numbers would have surely been way different. If you lived in a village of 100 people, you wouldn't be able to help but run into most of them a couple of times a week, and those who you didn't see, you'd most likely hear about through other people. Further back, hunter-gatherer tribes of a couple of hundred would no doubt also have much more closely-knit relationships than I have with the couple of hundred people I know.

No doubt you can see where this is going.

Blogs have brought this back. Keeping track of a hundred or more people on a daily basis -- following their lives, having interactions with them (via email or their comment boxes) is suddenly much, much easier. And I feel I know the people whose blogs I read daily at least as well as I know the people in my life that I catch up with every few weeks, and probably better.

What sparked this off was thinking about how, with the much wider pool of friends/acquaintances the blogosphere gives us, we suddenly find that a much larger number of people we "know" are in trouble of some sort -- broke, ill, dying, losing partners or close friends. In my "real" life, I've only known (well) one person who has had a partner die, I've had two good friends and three close relatives who have died, and I've never known anyone with a terminally ill child. In the online world I inhabit, I've seen many more of these situations, and each time it feels like it is happening to a friend.

But going by the numbers, that's the way it used to be. People wouldn't have been able to get to their mid-twenties in the past without knowing people who died, who lost loved ones and who have been poverty stricken, life-threateningly ill or affected by other tragedies. So maybe the way the blogosphere enlarges our field of friends and acquaintances is a matter of restoring a natural balance, and exposing us to situations we need to experience (first or second-hand) in order to really understand life, the world, and each other.


Lydia said...

hm, very interesting, thanks for that

grace said...

I heard some learned person on the radio (name forgotten) talking about news reporting in the media.

What this guy said was: until fairly recently, people would only have news of things that happened to those personally known and geographically close to them. If a tragedy occured, there was always something you could do to help. For example, if someone had died, there were rituals you were involved in to express your own grief, and to support the bereaved family. Practical things would be done to help those who needed it: meals cooked, children babysat, whatever. Everyone could help.

But the way we live now, we hear in minute detail of the personal tragedies of distant strangers. Beyond feeling sad for them, there's usually nothing we can do: we are absolutely powerless to help.

Blogs are of course much more interactive than the mass media, but I think they share this characteristic.

It's wonderful to be able to connect and share things with people we haven't met in ordinary life, but such connections have limitations.

StyleyGeek said...

That's very true, Grace. I think most people are more moved to try and help someone they have a personal connection with than they are a complete stranger, but across blogland, there is little you can really do, besides giving money if it's needed (e.g. things like Annika's internet insurance).

So as many of my students would write: "In conclusion, the situation in the past and the situation in the present share many similarities and they also share many differences."