Today, Fibucetera 4, 40 A.B.

    What is it that makes you you?
    Is it your face?  Your gender?  Your clothes?  Your race?
    Is it who your family is?  The car you drive?  The job you have?  The place you live?
    Are you really what you eat or merely the sum of all the people you've ever eaten with?
    Had you been born without arms, raised by wolves, or married off to a stranger in a faraway country for the good of the empire, to what extent would you still be the you you are today?

    Me?  I tend to think of myself as essentially a random idea generator at heart, an inveterate recombiner of words, a deeply dissatisfied dreamer forever in search of That Novel Conception That Shall Never Lose Its Lustre.  And I think I'd be that way even if I didn't have a cute face, or a pair of 30-year-old shoes, or even a race or a gender, but of course I'm deluding myself.  Somebody has to, after all, and as delusions go, I suppose there are worse.
    Now that I've shown you mine, can I see yours?

    And while I'm asking questions...
    How long have you known your oldest friend?
    My wife happens to be mine.  I've known her now for just over 20 years.  Well, I've been acquainted with her for just over 20 years, anyway.  The point is, I'm 40 at the moment and simple math reveals that my oldest friend has been around for merely half my life.
    That makes me the only known surviving veteran of my first two decades.
    I find that rather strange.  I didn't plan it that way.  I didn't tell all the people I met in grade school to get the hell out of the yard of my life, nor did I ever get a judge to issue a restraining order against all those folks from high school and college who kept throwing themselves against my days like so many moths unable to resist the One True Porch Light.
    Discounting my wife for a moment (nothing personal, honey), my next oldest friend goes back a mere 10 years.
    Like, what the fuck?

    Is this common?  I suppose it is.  I mean, people in modern times tend to go away to college, they tend to move far away for jobs, they change jobs and residences - what?  Every 5 years or so.  It's not like we're all stuck in some small, medieval version of Paris, unable to avoid the bell ringing hunchbacks even when we want to.
    Still.  I have a lot of gripes about pop culture and the media, and one of the most recurring, perhaps, is the way it distorts social reality as I know it.
    I grew up with a TV world where things virtually never changed for the characters there.  Not only did they never lose their friends, they virtually never changed their clothes, hairstyles, or anything else.  Considering this was the '60s, when everything outside this TV world seemed to be changing minute by minute, it's a wonder my leetle head didn't explode when I turned away from our old Admiral set the way those deep fish allegedly do when suddenly brought up from the pressure of the dark ocean depths.
    TV isn't quite as bad today, but consider that show with the achingly appropriate title, Friends.  The six main characters have been together like fleas on the same square inch of poodle for almost six years now.  Is that really realistic?  Or is it the subtle, inside joke of this comedy?  It takes an effort of will to remember why they've stayed together so long: NBC is paying the actors who play these characters millions of dollars to do so.  The minute NBC stops paying them, it'll be bye-bye buddy - just watch.
    The subliminal message is clear:  If you really want people to hang around for more than 13 weeks, you need to sign 'em to a long-term contract - and for that you're gonna be expected not only to pay a lot of bucks, you're gonna have to be prepared to sign over ownership of the tapes and the syndication rights to your pants.
    Yes, I know that doesn't quite make sense.  If you're a real friend, you'll pretend that it does.
    Just like I'm pretending you're reading this far.
    Geez.  Bit out of practice, aren't we?

    All of which is mere prelude to my confession that I don't understand Internet relationships after almost three years of trying.
    The first woman I met on line (let's call her Anna) I thought was the greatest person I'd ever met in my life.  And that was no snap judgment, either.  We'd chatted and exchanged email for at least an hour before I came to that conclusion.  I mean, she was talented, I was sure she was beautiful from the way she always typed   :-)   instead of   :)  , and best of all, she actually answered the phone when I called.
    It wasn't until days later that I learned she was mainly online to met Norwegian men whom she could lure to her Ohio bed with the promise of showing them her   :-)   in person.
    I've not been able to look at a Scandinavian man since without crying....

    In the years since, I haven't made a whole lot of progress in understanding the social dynamics of the Internet.  I realize it shouldn't have surprised me, given my failure to understand the social dynamics of the real world despite the many more years I've spent with it, but it did.  It does.  And it probably always will.
    Am I easily surprised?
    Am I just not paying attention?
    Am I an idiot?
    Or is there really a vast, international conspiracy between all creatures, real and cyber, to play mercilessly with my soft-shell mind?
    I wish I knew.
    As it is, I am left with a few tentative conclusions that probably aren't worth hanging onto, but what else do I have to clutch while my teddy bear is on break?

    Tentative Conclusion #1:  A lot of the appeal of those we meet online is actually the appeal of the medium spilling over onto them.  It's like the phone when it first came out.  Any voice heard from 1000 miles away was magical.  Why, in the early days of TV, millions of people thought the most fascinating person on the face of the earth was Milton Berle.  Enough said.

    Tentative Conclusion #2:  A lot of the appeal of those we meet online is more a function of what the medium keeps us from knowing than of what it reveals.  After connecting the tiny dots of info people online give us, we're free to fill in the gaps with assumptions and colors without contradiction.  It's a naturally self-deceiving process.  Our minds have to fill in the gaps somehow, it seems - they're simply not very good at envisioning nothingness.  And even if they don't fill in the gaps with idealistic fantasies, they fill them in with their default assumptions - and that can be even more seductive than outright conscious fantasy since it's harder to keep in mind what's actually going on and how great a distortion of reality it almost certainly is.  End result: People online can seem very appealing indeed, while the same people glimpsed in the mall might well instantly disgust us.  Yes, this fact can allow us to get beyond superficial surface appearances and get to know fine people we might otherwise have never given a chance; it can also trick us into revealing our embarrassing love of Henry Mancini to a 13-year-old boy in Montana.  Not that I've done that.  Ahem.

    Tentative Conclusion #3:  Relationships that can be terminated forever with the push of a button and without any actual observable consequences beyond the end of the relationship are inherently fraught with emotional danger.  Sometimes people will push a button marked "Nuke India" just because they can no matter how pretty their Taj Maha screensaver may look to them.

    Tentative Conclusion #4:  Few people are so charming or so unique that they can long compete with the 100 million other people always and forever just a mouse click away.  Whatever appeal Novelty grants to each of us, Familiarity seems eager to whisk away.

    Tentative Conclusion #5:  We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little lives on the Internet, as elsewhere, are rounded by solitary sleep....

    Ooops - gotta go.
    Time for my afternoon nap.

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