Space-Time Inflation in a Shrinking World

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I was in another of my very pensive moods this weekend. I realized very suddenly, for not the first time in my life I suppose, that there is a disparity between how much of my time I spend in the real world (meatspace) and how much of my time I spend in the virtual world. When I was little my imagination ran wild, hopped up on pulp science fiction and cyberpunk literature, envisioning a world where very little of your interaction with the outside world would be so personal. Rationality would reign supreme and—this is getting a little personal over here—my own inexorable evolution into a breathing machine would be socially acceptable.

We're all humans though. We are social creatures and we interact most effectively in person. 93% of communication between us is non-verbal in nature. The gestures, the facial expressions, the subtle and almost imperceptible changes in our posture as we talk, are all so essential to sociality that we feel isolated and estranged without them. I feel isolated and estranged. I have friends all over this country and in different parts of the world. These are real people that I have spent significant amount of time with, but we do not live in the same location anymore. Some of them we never lived in the same place and we know each other mostly through this medium: text.

When I went to Santa Cruz that last time, I found that everybody had changed in ways that were difficult to see in the text that went back and forth, even in the phone calls going back and forth. There were people to whom I'd spoken regularly who seemed like strangers to me when I arrived. Their views on the world had changed; their views on me had changed. I was so sad. Obviously I couldn't expect to leave a place and have it in a deep freeze until I went back. I couldn't expect that at all, but it still surprised me how much had changed, and I came to a conclusion. In the absence of sufficient social information conveyed in conversation, you assume people feel about you how you feel about them. I think this is just a baseline human condition and I got royally screwed by it.

This is a weird time though. It used to be when you went off to school you might possibly keep in touch with one or two friends via postcards or hand-written letters back and forth. People would keep their letters and if you were famous they'd get published after you died as your complete correspondence. I have a few such books (most enjoyable among them: Hunter S. Thompson's complete correspondence). Now we have the Internet, and the world is smaller and smaller all the time. We can get anywhere in the world within a couple of days by plane or by train. For a while there we had supersonic flight available for the general public but now we just have ridiculously overpriced regular flights, and they're getting slower and more expensive because of the price of oil. We can keep in touch with an unlimited number of people though. People who knew me when I was in grade school  can find me on Facebook, read my blog, follow me on Twitter, and see what I've been browsing on my Del.icio.us links. It's amazing, but it also provides me with this profound sense of isolation. The people that I love the most are everywhere but here, and that is sad enough to me right now that it is not offset adequately by the fact that I have more friends total than anyone fifty years ago would ever have time for. But how well do I know them all? How well do they know me?

I had friends in California that I cared about a great deal when I was living there. Those feelings have deepened considerably for some of them since then. For some, they have dampened and now I no longer feel that way. But my perceptions are my own and can't really be mirrored in the other person exactly so. I wish there were a way to figure it all out but there isn't really.

I swore I wouldn't go back the last time I went. I swore it was my last trip to Santa Cruz, and maybe it still should be. Absolutely everything possible went wrong that trip, including flight mishaps, lost work time, and crippling computer troubles. On top of all that I just really didn't have a good time. I didn't see all the people I wanted to see, didn't do anything that I wanted to do, and the whole time I was haunted by the spectre of work. I need a real vacation. I have actually never had one since I've begun my career. I need a real vacation where all I take is a couple of changes of clothes and a cell phone, which will spend most of its time switched off. I might need to take a vacation to somewhere I've never been before, too. I just need to pull myself out of this funk I'm in, this rut. I just need to escape.