Upon introduction in the real world, I like to hear a first name and surname. Perhaps in another 20 years, I shall have the gumption to say “Speak up, will you! Save me the embarrassment of having to ask your name again!”. As we all know, when meeting someone in the physical world for the first time, we make a host of first impressions: gender; gender orientation; age; social status; marital status, if applicable; basic character traits, and so on. We are also privy to gratuitous secondary introductory information such as, “Andrea* used to work with your ex-boss at Squelches Inc in the 90s”. Now, right there, we have something to talk about! Right there, each party forms conclusions, and normally decides, in their own minds at least, whether a second meeting is desirable. Nevertheless, for my part anyway, the name and face, and circumstances of meeting zing from one synaptic connection to another and find a spot to lurk in my brain until required again.
Let us assume that this fictional real-world encounter occurred at a cocktail party, or some such. Is Andrea my friend? No, not yet. Is she my acquaintance? According to the meaning of the word this century, no, not yet – although I have, in fact, made this person’s acquaintance. Do I care if I ever meet this person again or not? If my initial reaction to the human being was favourable, then perhaps at this stage I am still neutral, and definitely cautious.
At this point, in real life (as opposed to Facebook, say), I have not had the opportunity to peruse Andrea’s entire photograph album (or her friend’s photographs, for that matter), nor been privy to any exchanges she has had with her other friends . And, here is the thing, she has not seen me in photographic glory either, nor has she been party to my dubious typing skills via the chat function. We choose the interpersonal space between us, and the distance is mutually adjusted to suit. We do not flatten each other out in specially prepared little boxes.
We employ here a skill called discernment. Our discernment enables us to draw a “profile” of the other. In cyberspace, we are ourselves responsible for that profile. Oh dear! This is a subtle, though fundamental change, which alters our behaviour slightly. The more discerning will notice, and some may even be troubled by it, since the electronic medium is not always the best conveyor of what we may perceive to be our most likeable qualities in real life. Aha! Finally, I understand why people use their pet cats as profile pictures!
Well, then, at least we can all be connected. Tangentially, my overactive cartoonist mind has two individuals entangled in electrical cables, both trying to go in different directions, with one of them saying, “I think we need a better connection”. Any cartoonists or sketchers out there open to the challenge?** Those of us who count ourselves amongst the latter-day African diaspora – and the rest of the world! – are possibly glad at least once a day to be connected in this way.
So, connected we are, and labelled we are. On Facebook I cannot be “that nice tall English girl who used to work at the laundry” as I have been known to be identified by the nice short Portuguese village folk. I have to have my name, and an e-mail, and (yet another) password. My profile allows me to add as many labels as I wish to my personage. It reminds me of a kitchen where every container has a label; tea, coffee, sugar, flour, salt, nasty bit of lettuce we all forgot about, etc. One can be overwhelmed by the preponderance of labels, and miss the kitchen entirely.
Before my relatively short time on facebook, and even briefer encounter with LinkedIn, I never once thought of “accepting someone as a friend”. Neither did I think it possible to receive an e-mail which said, “I went into LinkedIn and accepted you as a connection and I think this ought to give you access…” I have been accepted as a connection! By a good friend of long standing! Oh, joy! My little light bulb heart glows with sentimentality at the next snippet of information to invade my mind: I am a connection of the “first degree”. Just as I thought, all along: We are good friends.
Note: the word or phrase in bold appeared in my previous blog.
*The names of people and commercial entities are fictitious. No-one I know, nor any of their children, are named Andrea, nor have I ever worked for, or known of, a company called Squelches Inc., more’s the pity.
** Send in your contributions. I will publish the most apt here.