Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grad School Killed the Internets.

You know, I used to have a lot of internet friends. And by "a lot," I mean, "A LOT." In the early 1990s, my online friends outnumbered my friends from school and work by about 50 to 1. Maybe something closer to 75 to 1. Even after I stormed off Usenet, and IRC turned into an ugly monster, I had friends from a bunch of online interest groups: stamp collecting, model rocket building, drumming, sports. My e-mail address book is full of names of people with whom I used to correspond on a daily basis. Well past the year 2000, I could have written up a long list of friends that I'd met on the internet, some of which I'd since met in person, but most of which were strictly online friendships.

I bring this up because facebook recently drew my attention to the fact that I no longer have internet friends. My friends list consists almost entirely of people I met in person before establishing internet contact. Since leaving the U.S. my facebook friends list has finally become long enough that I had to create categories for my friends so I could keep up with them with as little cognitive dissonance as possible: "relatives," "Tonasket," "Seattle," "Western," "Oregon," "Bloomington," "Illinois," "Poulsbo," "Los Angeles," "India," and finally, "Internet." I can now see updates from all my friends in Bloomington at one time. (Mostly, this means I read about the weather in Bloomington from five different people, all simultaneously telling facebook that it is windy outside.)

Anyway, my point is, out of 100 friends, only 4 fall into the category"Internet," and only two of the four really belong in that category. I've had enough face time with the other two that I don't really consider "Internet" to be the right category for them, but I can't figure out where to move them. They don't fit into the geography onto which I've mapped the history of my social life.

How did this happen? I think some people would think this is a good thing, having more "real" friends and fewer "internet" friends, but I think it's not so great. I used to talk to people from all over the place, and now it seems I talk to people who are standing only in the same place I am at the moment. I think grad school had a lot to do with my internet fall off. I don't like to talk about my work, so I didn't, and that probably slowed some friendships down. I didn't have internet access in my first apartment in Illinois, and that probably had something to do with it. Using all my free time to commute during the school year, then going to India where internet access is unreliable at best, well, that probably had something to do with it. And then the big reason: I gave up all my hobbies when I went back to grad school, so reading about tin whistles or woodworking online is just a form of torture, since I never have the time to do it.*

It's really a shame. I used to talk to the most interesting people. I mean, not that the other 96 peope on my friends list aren't interesting, they definitely are. I just miss having the opportunity to cultivate online friendships. But maybe people don't do that anymore? After all, it's not 1991 anymore.

*If you want time to work on your hobbies, and they are portable, I recommend moving to Bikaner. When it is 105 degrees out, you can stay in your room and practice to your heart's content.


Beth said...

I'm feeling like I'm in the opposite deep hole. I know fewer and fewer people in Chambana anymore (everyone is moving, it seems) and feel like I've retreated into the computer - not only because it's easy to find people online but because almost all of the the people I have found are entirely fantastic. I keep telling myself, when wishing I had someone to go out for lunch with, "Well, at least you have people to chat with after lunch." But it's not the same. It's not worse, it's just...not portable.

Si said...

Yes, I see what you mean. I was just telling someone that is incredibly difficult to make friends as an adult (and in fact, most of my facebook friends are from my high school/college days). If you're not lucky enough to work in a big place with lots of potential friends, you're kind of stuck. Maybe that's why I had so many online friends in the early 1990s--some of my grad school cohorts were really small and I didn't fit in socially.

I'm secretly hoping my seminar is on Thursday afternoons so we can do tomato soup beforehand. Or any other day of the week so we can do Dos at Dos.