Mysterious connections

Jofish was visiting last week and we had a fabulous time – at one point, we ended up at the screening of a short film that starred Jofish’s friend’s coworker’s sister. Afterwards, we went out with some of the folks that had worked on the film, and they were asking us what we do, and for some reason, I was answering for Jofish, and he was answering for me. Which led to the natural follow-up question of how long we had known each other. And we looked at each other, and couldn’t really remember the answer. We hung out a lot last year (four times in four cities in seven months), but before that, I think we had met a couple times, maybe spent one afternoon hanging out when he visited the Bay Area. And yet it feels like we’ve known each other forever.

It’s a weird thing. I wish I understood it better. One of the struggles I have had since coming to New York (or, really, my entire life) is trying to find “my” people, whatever that means. And I can’t quite nail it down.

It’s not just a matter of spending time together; for instance, I feel far closer to Jofish or my other TEP friends than, say, my former coworkers who I saw every day for years. I think it may have to do with my still-uncontinued thread on filling in the blanks; if two people don’t have similar enough experiences/backgrounds/cultural referents/senses of humor to have similar takes on what people are saying or experiencing, then there is a significant cognitive overhead to overcome before they can be friends. I talked about this last year in a post on conversational alignment. If I have to spend several sentences explaining each of my references, then the conversational momentum is disrupted and it’s hard to achieve that sense of flow in conversation (another topic which Wes suggested at one point that I need to follow up on) that I enjoy so much. As an aside, one of the reasons I really like blogging is that I can use the power of hypertext to insert references to other posts/pages where needed so as not to disrupt that flow.

At the same time, it would be kind of pathetic if I were only willing to become friends with people that are already like me. So part of my social efforts here in New York has been going out with every group I can find a connection to, taking advantage of weak ties. And I have found that I can at least maintain sociability in such varied settings as a film screening and a DJ night. But I definitely downplay myself when I’m out among folks I don’t know. To use incredibly geeky language, I have a public interface which has a significantly reduced functionality; in other words, I’m playing the part of “Eric”, which includes parts of me that are “safe” topics of conversation. Huh. Realization of the night: it’s a vicious circle – I describe myself boringly out of fear of being treated as weird, therefore I am treated as boring, which makes me even less likely to come out of my shell, and makes me want to go home. I guess the solution is to put myself out there more of the time. Unfortunately, that leads to the times when I get crushed because nobody’s interested when I put myself or my ideas out there. Maybe I’ll stick to blogging, where my friends have opted in so they’re more likely to care what I think.

Speaking of blogging, I’ve been wondering how that plays into our relations with each other. It’s a little bit weird these days because when I call many of my friends, we don’t have to spend any time catching up on what we’ve been doing, because we read each other’s blogs. In one way, that’s good – it means not having to spend time on the purely mundane. On the other hand, it removes the use of the mundane as an introductory conversational phase before transitioning to more interesting topics. It will be interesting to see what happens as more people start chronicling their lives online (I’ve read that teenagers don’t use email any more – they interact solely through IM and MySpace comments). I also wonder how and when blogging decreases friction (by creating more shared mental space) and increases friction (by creating the weirdness of knowing somebody better online than off).

But back to the original point. How do I find “my” people? How do I even define who “my” people are, so I can have a chance of finding them? This actually ties back into the multiple social identities post in that I’m trying to find the community that fosters the me I want to be. Which, of course, means that I have to figure out who I want to be. So basically everything comes back to solipsism. I think I’ve been spending too much time alone in my apartment.

Man, I really have no coherence tonight. I really wanted to try to put a post together because it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I guess I should wait until I actually have something to say. Maybe more later this week when it’s not so bloody hot.

Downplay myself: This was evident when Jofish was talking me up at the film screening, and being way more adulatory than I would have been for myself. Instead of my typical line about “I work at a software company that makes bug-tracking software” (which is about as boring a description as can be imagined), Jofish mentioned the management training program, how I had beaten out a bunch of other applicants, and my ambitions for creating a viable corporate community. This is probably fodder for another post, but I need to get over my terror of being the center of attention so that I feel comfortable talking about my accomplishments. At the same time, it only takes a couple outings where somebody goes “Dude, you went to MIT! Wow, you must be so smart!” before I cease to have any desire to talk about myself ever again. But this returns us to the topic of finding “my” people, where I don’t have to worry about feeling like the freak that I am.

3 thoughts on “Mysterious connections

  1. There’s certainly the conversational technique of sprinkling interesting references into your otherwise bland discussion and waiting for someone to bite; if their antennae twitch then you can elaborate. It’s sometimes hard to walk this line (it’s soooooo context-dependent, and you’ve GOT to know when it’s totally inappropriate to tell the ice sculpture story, etc) but when it works it’s a good vetting technique.

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