Saturday, August 12, 2017

our neighbors....the people in A Big City

People come to New York for lots of reasons, but some of us were just fortunate enough to have been born here.

All the stories about how we don't really know each other are true, though. We have distinct means of keeping a distance from one another because it's what we do, or perhaps it's just what I do. I work with people, but I don't really know them. And perhaps I should try harder to get to know them (a former coworker pointed out that our coworkers ARE our families, because we spend much more time with them than we do with our actual families, when you take into consideration that we all SLEEP, too), but what I'm concerned with is the people you know in passing. There are half a dozen people who come to the public library where I work regularly whom I feel I know; they know something about my life, and I know something about theirs, and we see each other rather regularly.
Until we don't.
And we don't know when we stop seeing them, exactly, because our interactions have always been casual. They are like the people I know from the gym, and we smile at each other, but it never goes any further than that.
And then they disappear.
Or perhaps I'm being overly dramatic. I realize I haven't seen somebody for a few weeks and that's fine. People go away. People travel.

None of these people are answerable to me, but I realize I have no way of knowing what happened to them. Their families don't know *me*. Perhaps their families know that the library is important to them, but that's not a reason to contact the library when their aunt gets sick, is it?
When the aunt dies?

3 years ago I learned that a friend had died. Somebody on Facebook had initiated communication with me (send me an unsolicited message) asking "I see you're friends with Jill. I haven't heard from her in a few weeks and that's very unlike her. Do you know if anything has happened to her?"
I did not know. I did know that Jill hadn't talked to me in over a year and a half, really. We'd had a disagreement a year earlier when she'd asked me "have you wept for your grandfather?" in an overly sympathetic tone and I'd felt that Jill wasn't willing to share my pain, but rather wanted to know that somebody else felt just as sad as she did. Except Jill was miserable about EVERYTHING, and I had a few things that were a little upsetting. Attending my grandfather's memorial was more upsetting than his actual death. When a 95 year old dies, it's not exactly a tragedy, nor is it a surprise. I wanted to have room to be upset about family dramas that were working out, not drown in sorrow over a not unexpected death.
But I don't know Jill anymore, and when her depression took over, she would not allow me to be her friend. I could only be a chorus to her misery.

I told this stranger as much, and did not hear from her again.
When I learned from a former Professor that Jill had died, I reached out to the stranger on Facebook. It turned out Jill's brother had contacted her to say that Jill had died. The stranger on Facebook thought it wasn't her news to tell, so she didn't contact me.

We don't know each other. Why should we contact strangers only to give them bad news?
The World Wide Web is a great thing, in some ways; social media makes it easier to keep in contact with people cheaply. Email is marvelous, but it also allows us to believe we know people who share a few opinions or experiences with us, and cover the fact that we don't really know them at all. Facebook allows us to share opinions and keep up to date with each other. It also gives us a myriad of opportunities to deliberately misunderstand each other, speak without thinking of how what we're saying might be misinterpreted, and because we are NOT in front of each other, it gives us many other opportunities to fail to communicate and to hurt one another's feelings.
Facebook also us to meet people outside our circle and find what we have in common with people we might not otherwise see, but more likely it allows us to continue our little circles of people who agree with us. Unfriend the people who piss you off, because arguments on social media usually slide into flame wars remarkably quickly.
Facebook is like the big city. People wander in and out of your circles and you think you know them, but you don't. I see some people on the subway regularly. A friend from Texas once asked why I didn't interact with these people more. Because I don't know them and the fact that we share a subway line in our commute means next to nothing. If we were reading similar books AND taking the same subway line, that would be different.
Facebook is just another big city and we don't know each other and perhaps we should treat people we barely know in real life as though we barely know them on Facebook.

Particularly when they piss us off.

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