Posts Tagged ‘communication’


On communicating clearly…

June 11, 2016

…without getting punished….

I don’t even remember how I got on the topic, but I’ve just spent an inordinate span of time trying to find a definitive roster of words, phrases, idioms, and thought balloons which I am summarily denied the freedom to use, and I’ve come to an enlightening conclusion. There isn’t one.

It reminds me of early childhood. I was sternly cautioned to NEVER utter certain words. I wasn’t told what they were, but being a resourceful child, I discovered them through the process of elimination, beginning with the venerable Anglo Saxon word for “excrement”, which I printed in block letters with a blue crayon in my table drawer in First Grade.

I don’t actually know where I learned these words because, believe it or not, neither my father nor mother used profanity. Well, for the most part. My mother was known to cut loose with a few minor expressions of angst on occasion, and not necessarily without just cause.

By the time I made it into junior high school, then, I had a fully developed repertoire of Potty Mouth that would make a sailor cry, and I was fairly adept at wielding it with a growing infrequency of contextual misfires. By the time I strapped on a Navy uniform, I could verbally peel paint, but, of course, I was told by those in authority, which was virtually everybody, that an officer and gentleman doesn’t use that kind of language. As had been the case from first grade on, the admonition and attendant real and implied threats were not accompanied by a list of what I mustn’t say. It was presumed, again, as I suppose it always had been, that I knew.

Later, in Corporate America, when I was given the opportunity to sport an appropriate charcoal grey pinstriped suit, white shirt, and a conservatively colored diagonal striped necktie, Windsor knot, and step into a pair of wing-tips, I encountered the same old manual I had under previous indoctrination procedures.

“Just be sure you never do THAT…..”

“Do what?”‘

“….You know.”


“Just be sure you never say THAT…..”

“Say what?”‘

“….You know.”

A couple of years later, at a Regional Sales Conference in a major city, one attended by thousands of my peers, their Supervisors, their District Managers, and reportedly even God Himself (actually the company president….same difference, according to some), I met as man who had the audacity to break all of the rules. Now, I’d never seen so many pin-striped suits, white shirts, and wingtips in one place in my life, and when somebody with “credentials” told a lame joke, ten thousand grinning idiots laughed on cue. Well, I don’t recall the gentleman’s name but I’d say he must have been about forty (which was “old” to me at that stage), and he must have had outrageously elevated sales figures or been somebody’s brother in law, because he had on a rumpled blazer, grey slacks, non-descript shoes, and his hair was not exactly well groomed either. One of the Vice Presidents, a notoriously devout man and a stickler for propriety, was giving a presentation and had thrown out a general query regarding goals for the coming year. The man in the blazer barked out a rather ambitious claim, which got everyone’s attention. The VP challenged his ability to deliver on that, citing obstacles that would be in his way. The man considered the challenge for a moment and then boomed out, “Well, sir, there’s more than one way to kiss a cat’s ass without gettin’ hair on your teeth!

Except for a few unintended guffaws, the arena was dead quiet. Not only had the man DONE “that”, but he had SAID “that” as well. To this day, I suspect he must have been related to Evel Kneivel.

So, fast forward about forty plus years to the twenty teens, when, as seems to be the way of things, the populace is still being cautioned/threatened to never do “THAT“, or to say any of its cognates from the universe of the spoken and written word. For the most part, it isn’t so much a case of updating the list as it is a matter of adding on to it. That’s what I was curious about. What is ON that list, anyway. Not only do I remember George Carlin’s seven forbidden words being at the start of that list so long ago, but I remember the expansions and updates over the years, though I can’t recite the specific words off the top of my head.

Maybe nobody else can either, which would explain the lack of a list, but if people from the judiciary can talk sternly about “hate speech”, and the like, somebody must have a reference somewhere.

Be that as it may, I’ll wait no longer and have decided to compile such a list myself. It will take some research, and perhaps a bit of the old reliable trial and error, but I’ll manage. So many of the things that would have put me in the coat room for recess, earned me a session of my mother’s considerable potential for wrath. or put the kybosh on long term career plans in earlier times, would now potentially place me in front of a judge, or worse, at the mercy of bureaucratic vengeance. Either that, or it might make a third grader yawn.

My list will be organized into “sections”. I would say “families”, as that would be more accurate, but, believe it or not, the word “family”, according to blogger Dr. Joe Wenke in a Huffington Post article from September 1, 2013 I once read, “the phrase “traditional family values” is itself a form of hate speech,” apparently because groups not supportive of same sex relationships use it to describe, well, their opinion of what traditional family values might be. Like I’ve said, obscenity is a subjective concept

This could be an interesting study, actually. Times have changed, and as has been the way down through the ages, political juice has a great deal to do with whose mouth gets to chew on a bar of Ivory soap and whose does not. Today is reminiscent of (from what I hear), say, eleventh century England, when The Good Old Boys could pretty much call it as they saw it and everybody got along fine except for the recreational homicide, which, of course, was entirely normal as well as being the precursor for twenty first century election culture. That all went up in smoke, preferably lavender scented and with a lute played in the background, when those perfy Normans showed up to rewrite a perfectly functional Anglo Saxon dictionary and lay down an endless and ever changing cacophony of rules about where to speak and how to wipe.

It seems that much of George Carlin’s paint-peelers of the seventies are now standard fare on Prime Time TV, while the minor verbal noogies we used to toss around out by the swings at recess could today be reason for National Guard tents to show up next to the gazebo in the town park.

In any event, stay tuned (can I say that, or does that sound too much like “go tune yourself”….?)…


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“Speak English…!”

February 21, 2016

whatever that means….

People being hypocritical and downright ugly when it comes to politics is nothing new. The bright side is, we aren’t having shootouts on the floor of Congress. Things are calmer, believe it or not, than they were in the early nineteenth century. That notwithstanding, I wince at some of the things candidates and/or their supporters will do in the race for the Most Crass trophy of the campaign season. If Trump wins the White House, it will be a rare Win-Win Bifecta.

The opposing camp is not devoid of turd-in-the-punchbowl moments, however, as in the recent Sanders rally in Las Vegas where civil rights icon Dolores Huerta was rudely shouted down with cries of “English only! ” when she volunteered to translate for Hispanic attendees. That’s quite a swan dive into the River Styx for a crowd so far left they have to rappel down the port side of the dais to find their platform.

The indignant bursts of angst over people having the audacity to speak anything but the precise language spoken and understood by the complainants is nothing new. In fact, it is extremely “human“, but usually originates with those of limited education and those afflicted with an iron clad “my way or the highway” or black and white manner of thinking.

Perhaps, though, it would be more effective to inquire whether or not those goose-stepping to the beat of “English only” chants are fluent in any of the more than 250 aboriginal languages spoken in North America today, just as they have been spoken for thousands of years. If that sounds unfair, perhaps we should limit it to English, as the protestors demand. OK.

Shall we require that speech be limited to the East Anglian English that characterizes the New England dialect? Perhaps the southern New England form that was greatly influenced by the Dutch colonists in what is now the New York City region, with the stereotypical “ Brooklynese ” as it’s banner would be preferred by some.

Die-hard Yankees sometimes roll their eyes at the sound of the “Southern accent” and consider it to be the sign of ignorance. To the contrary, the middle Atlantic areas of what today constitutes Virginia and the Carolinas were settled by the “upper crust” of England, the wealthy, and those loyal to, and supported by, the crown. All regions have “sub-dialects”, and the south is no exception. The “Black English” stands out, particularly today. It is a mixture of the ancestral African languages, the Southern English spoken by the slave owners, Creole, and more. As with any dialect or sub-dialect, it contains its own unique pronunciations, words, idioms, and cultural foundations. Cajun, of French-English-Southern derivation is another.

South central Pennsylvania, parts of northern Virginia, and New Jersey sport a noticeable dialect influenced by the origins of those who settled there as well, sometimes misnomered “Pennsylvania Dutch“. They were the Midlands English, the Welsh, German, and Scandinavian people who came here for various reasons. My teen years were spent in southeastern Pennsylvania and often heard things like “about the house” pronounced more like “aboot the hoose”.

When I lived in western North Carolina, there were isolated pockets of civilization back in the mountains, in what were called “coves” essentially dead end valleys, where there were still remnants of a dialect known as “Appalachian English“, with distinctive elements of a strong Celtic and Gaelic influence. It is a Scotch-Irish derivative with some Old English features.

Wherever Europeans settled, and wherever their descendents moved to as the West was settled, one can find words, phrases, pronunciations, often peculiar to limited local areas, reflecting the intermixing of older dialects and cultures.

We are indeed a “mixing bowl”, whether those who suffer cramps when they hear a word or pronunciation outside of their limited lexicon like it or not.

Ah, but that’s not all. The “English” spoken in England long before Europeans set foot on the American continents was itself fractured, and for the same reasons American English has no single pedigree.

Prior to the Norman invasion and conquest of England, Gaelic and Celtic tongues were long established, and the Anglo Saxons of Jutland and West Germany brought with them the earliest form of what we call English today. It would be unintelligible to any of us now without focused learning.

Early written materials were mostly in the West Saxon dialect of English. The other three primary dialects were Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish, and none could easily understand or communicate with any of the other three. Not until the reign of Alfred the Great (877-899) were the separate “Englands” and their languages united under one crown and one “official” dialect. Besides defending against Viking raiders, his emphasis was on education and establishing “Wessux” as the preferred and recognized dialect. The teaching of English began to replace Latin as the scholarly language.

The Norman Conquest complicated things further. Not only did the French language become the “official” language of the country, but the Norman French culture changed England forever. Then, as we see today and as was mentioned at the beginning of this piece, discrimination and division of peoples by such minor factors as how words are pronounced, the practice wasn’t a new human behavior.

Those of Norman French origin, to whom the language and culture were the norm, and those who learned and adopted the language and culture, gaining favor in the eyes of the conquerors, represented the “upper classes”. The “native” English (those claiming the designation in 1066, though other cultures and languages had preceded them), were the lower, laboring classes. The English raised the crops and livestock consumed by the Normans. The English called their animals “cows” or “pigs”, which became beef or pork to the Norman French. Language determined social status, and many other things.

Hundreds of years later, our language continues to borrow from the languages and cultures of immigrants, perhaps most noticeable today being Hispanic, Asian, and perhaps soon the Middle Eastern peoples.

So, what is one to say, what is one to do, when admonished to “Speak English”? How does one separate the individual ingredients of “dump stew”?

Personally, I would do nothing, as someone who would make such a suggestion obviously has a severely limited understanding of what English actually is.


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Tabloid journalism & comments….

January 15, 2016




October 3, 2014



The Lexicographers…..

June 21, 2014

and other casters of stone # one….

I have been known to offer uncomplimentary remarks about the Word Police upon occasion, and about how the concepts of manners and courtesy have been blown so far out of proportion that I sometimes wonder if Cotton Mather has been reincarnated as the inspired, inerrant, infallible official Lexicographer for our society. Instead of ordained agents peeking through windows to ensure that everybody has gone to church as required, however, our twenty first century pucker-butts focus on matters of vocabulary to ensure that everyone remains obediently within the Approved Parameters of permissible attitudes, beliefs, and opinions as reflected in their speech. The use of forbidden verbiage is considered prima facie evidence of contemplating forbidden categories of “hate”. While it is permissible to “hate” members of the opposing political party, communists, and asparagus, choosing not to be fond of, or to not even give half a crap about another person for any reason included on the Official List of Politically Incorrect intellectual lawn cookies, and having the audacity to verbalize those sentiments, is nothing short of twenty first century heresy.

We are so hyper vigilant about such matters, that even the designated “good guys” have to use code to report what the designated “bad guys” have said. Remember the “OK” words you were taught to use as a kid when discussing certain appendages and body functions? It’s reminiscent of those days, except instead of such cryptic references as pee pee, number two, and others too silly to mention, we now rely on such camouflage as “The N Word” to say things without actually saying them. In fact, in addition to the example just given, virtually any reference to topics involving race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity must be made with great caution, preferably in code or by squeaky-clean metaphor. At the same time, utterances that would have earned me a soap sandwich as a youth (and did) can now be enjoyed in the raw any night of the week on Prime Time television fare. The iconic “F bomb” still requires a symbolic “beep”, however.

I thought this phenomenon was pretty much a quirk of the United States, but I was wrong.

I enjoy some sports but I don’t love any of them with the appropriately demonstrative, rabid, and noisy intensity expected of the American Male. I did notice and raise my eyebrows, however, when the American soccer team upset the Ghana soccer team recently at a FIFA World Cup Brazil match. In other parts of the world, soccer is a religion, but we tend to express our pathologies of that sort over American style football, basketball, and baseball. So I read the story.

I also noticed the story a few days later when Mexico, having played their own FIFA World Cup matches against Brazil and Camaroon, had become the subject of “disciplinary proceedings” by FIFA because their fans had badmouthed their opponents. Whoa!

So, apparently the cultural aberration of word anxiety is not limited to the USA after all, because FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the local ruling authority in soccer circles), is all puckered to the point of being nearly inside out over the politically, morally, philosophically Incorrrect enthusiasm of Mexican fans during their matches.

It seems the fans, fired up and passionate, as soccer fans are genetically programmed to be, chanted a naughty word en espanol during the usual “talkin’ trash” phases of the games, apparently using the term “puto” in reference to their opponents. “Puto” is impolite, at best, in any Hispanic dialect but roughly translates as “whore” in Mexican Spanish. I chuckled at first, but then it occurred to me that death and dismemberment in the stands has been standard operating procedure in the soccer universe for ages so I wondered at their emulation of United States type behaviors in response to a mere insult.

And then I read FIFA’s official “position” on such matters, namely discrimination.

First of all, since the soccer matches were being played in Brazil where prostitution is legal, I found the complaint to be somewhat incongruous. Heck, in the United States there are more than two and a half times as many people working for the federal government as there are “putos” in Brazil. Secondly, it wasn’t a case of slander or libel because the references were generalized to the nth degree and no direct or personal finger pointing was involved. American football fans have been known to dress up in body paint and weird costumes to loudly encourage their home teams to “slaughter ’em“, but I have yet to hear about any complaints of conspiracy to commit murder.

Nevertheless, killing somebody and hurting their feelings are different animals here in the USA, as they apparently have become in the world of international soccer as well. I was amazed at the FIFA statement about “discrimination”:

“FIFA takes a firm, zero-tolerance stance against any form of discrimination and racism and this is enshrined in the FIFA Statutes in article 3 which stipulates that: ‘Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion’.”

Holy cow! (with apologies to agnostic bovines) Their parameters for allegations of discrimination or racism don’t leave much wiggle room for suggesting to someone that you don’t have so much as the same favorite ice cream flavor they have, or that you simply don’t like them, unless one plays dumb and claims the negative emotion arose spontaneously and for no reason whatsoever.

This morning I noticed another report about the globally popular World Cup competition. It seems Mexican fans once again disturbed the fabric of the universe, this time by casting aspersions on the masculinity of the opposing team’s goalie. The “offending” word was not revealed, but I’d bet pesos to tacos I know what it was, because I once tried out a newly acquired piece of vocabulary on my Cuban friend Rufino when I was in college down in Florida back in the sixties and I was lucky to escape with my life.

Considering FIFA’s dictatorial approach to vocabularies, attitudes, beliefs, opinions, shoe sizes, and favorite vegetables of anyone aspiring to play soccer on their turf, a similar scenario played out today would have Rufino calling his lawyer and a half dozen bureaucracies, with litigation and court mandated atonements in mind, instead of chasing my scared little butt across campus and off through the palmettos by moonlight with rearranging my facial furniture in mind.

As with similar situations here at home, I question references to discrimination and racism as they are meant in the present day sense. We’re not talking about “back of the bus” mandates or any of the other “Jim Crow” laws of the pre-nineteen sixties here. We’re not talking about blatant refusals to employ, to admit to schools, or neighborhoods where one cannot purchase a home. We’re not talking about lynching and beating incidents. Essentially, what began as a campaign to correct some egregious wrongs and denials of the rights declared by the Constitution to apply to all citizens, has mutated from a Civil Rights movement to the establishment of an authority to monitor proscribed words and behaviors which may be construed to imply a mindset of concrete plans to commit vile acts if not so monitored.

Bad news, ladies and gentlemen. It has always been a quirk of reality that some people just don’t like some other people, for various reasons, which may or may not make sense, and I strongly suspect that this is never going to change. People have taken turns practicing behaviors ranging from protruding tongues to genocide in an effort to dictate universalism or to act out our genetically mandated sense of territorialism seemingly forever. It never works out. The underdogs eventually manage to come up with a few sharp sticks and some throwing stones of their own, and they do the role reversal thing. That doesn’t work out either. The only opportunity for a real change of course is enjoyed by the faction already on top and therefore having no reason or desire to change.


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On line discussions and anonymity…..

September 20, 2013


or, punchin’ the tar baby….

I suppose it is a habit, though I can’t think of one good reason why. I read the article, and then went to the comments section to add my two cents worth on the topic at hand. While there, I took a quick look at what a few other people had written, and while none of it influenced what I had already decided to post, I did find myself muttering insults and other disparaging assessments of my anonymous peers. I sat back for a moment and looked at the screen.

What the hell are you doing?” I asked myself.

So, here I am, and I still have not answered that question. It’s an important question, I believe, and one I need to answer.

I have opinions on issues and events, as do many other people, and I often publish them in one way or another, as I have since junior high school when I started drawing cartoons and signed up to work on school publications. That behavior continued for the next thirty years or so, editing a college newspaper, and later a local weekly, and then continued with letters to the editor, and so forth. As an experienced curmudgeon, I had to wonder while I was staring at that screen what it was about that particular venue that rankled me.

A couple of years ago, against my better judgment, I signed up for the on-line version of our local daily newspaper because I thought it would be interesting to get involved in some of the discussions that follow news items and editorials. The first thing I noticed was that people contributing to those discussions, unlike the writers of traditional letters to the editor, had assumed a broad variety of strange identifications the likes of which I had first encountered on a Dungeons and Dragons game site. Slaying orcs as the BloodSword of Garsche is one thing, but if I’m going to debate with an editor, I want him to know my name.

It quickly became clear that virtually nobody wanted their names known, and why. It’s amazing what people will say and do when they assume a mantle of non-accountability! I stayed on that website for less than a year, during which time a brother in law, one other person, and I were the only ones who used our real names. Why an allegedly middle aged man with a PhD and named after a fictitious animal would taunt me for willfully being identifiable I’m not sure…..but I do have a couple of thoughts on the matter that I kept to myself then and I will continue to do so here as well.

I noticed that when one of us “REAL-namers” would post a remark on that particular site, even if it was silly or stupid, it had obviously passed some sort of muster first. I don’t recall ever personally insulting another participant, though I often disagreed with them vigorously. Nor do I recall the others doing so, either. Any attempts to clarify insults made against me were fruitless. Rabid politics and accusations of every imaginable sort were consistently offered instead of rational discourse by a handful of those I met and observed there. It was best to ignore them.

I have no idea whether those few individuals were fifteen or fifty. They reminded me of the “CB” craze of the seventies when it seemed that everybody owned at least one Citizen’s Band radio. With very few exceptions, exchanges over the airwaves then were pointless, inane, silly, and a lot of fun, but even then there were the few, known as “Weenies”, who did everything in their apparently adolescent power to offend, interrupt, pepper the airwaves with profanities, and generally make pains in the ass of themselves.

Like bell bottom pants and wide ties, some fads are cyclical and reappear periodically. The internet and digital technology have unleashed the “Weenies”, again, it seems. At least they don’t wield a phony Alabama accent and say “ten fir”, and “good buddy has been supplanted by “Dude”, among other things.


I never posted my response to the article and I don’t recall what the subject matter was. Nevertheless, I learned something important; about myself. People have many reasons for behaving as they do, both privately and publicly, and even in the most altruistic of instances I believe there is a primary element of self actualization involved.

One may help the little old lady across the street because, in part, she desires to cross it, and in part because it makes him feel good, but there is also likely to be a merit badge of some sort involved. I know it makes me feel good about myself to do something nice for someone, but I don’t make an obsession out of it. I may have retired from a helping field, but I also got paid for my time and efforts.

On the other side of that coin we have people that engage in mean, objectionable, annoying, and sometimes downright obnoxious behaviors, and it stands to reason that they, too, must be serving a variety of motivations. I mean, I know there must be a reason why an alleged adult would assume a false identity so that he or she could beleaguer any and all without fear of consequences. As a retired counselor, it is tempting to move into Lucy’s sidewalk “Psychiatry 5 cents” concession stand and spend all afternoon analyzing and diagnosing these characters with everything but hives, but, for one thing, I’m not credentialed to do that, and, for another I’ve got better things to do with my time.

I guess it is safe to say, however, that skulking behind some fantasy name and launching barbs at passersby isn’t exactly the profile of someone you’d like to have date your daughter or that you’d like to elect to public office. In fact, I wouldn’t even want to live next door to the jerk.

So, to address my initial question regarding “what the hell” I might have been doing as I teetered on the brim preparing to swan dive once again into the cistern of psychopathology, I haven’t a clue.

The internet is a veritable Garden of Delights of “chat” rooms, forums, and discussion groups of every imaginable kind with infinite opportunities to join in the melee. The phenomenon actually presents multiple opportunities for an interesting study or two into human social behavior, too. I’m sure some college psych major already thought of that and turned in a paper while I was fiddling with my Social Security forms; and if not, why not?

For me, such activities are good places to stay away from, or at least to minimize lapses of good judgment when I succumb to temptation. Even though I like to put my name on what I say, if I find myself wondering if that is wise, I should take that as an indication that I probably shouldn’t be there, that I shouldn’t say what I was going to say, or both.

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July 29, 2013


This will probably be dripping with puns, bad jokes, overstatements, understatements, dirty gym socks, and all sorts of other stuff before I’m done. You will have a number of options:

  • One: deal with it

  • Two: get over it

  • Three: get over yourself

  • Four: do absolutely nothing…simply wander around with your thumb up your ass and that vacant expression on your face.

Call me an “old fart”, if you please, or call me cheese doodle, I don’t give a toot, but the fact is I am of the wrong generation to fully appreciate whatever pheromone it is that exudes so profusely from Facebook and all of those other internet soul-sucks that are doing a twenty first century version of the Pied Piper shtick. So, I asked myself this morning, “Self, why do you participate?”

Good question, though I doubt I’ll ever come up with a rational explanation…..the operative word being “rational”. One thing I thought of is that I like to see the pictures that family members and old friends post. Nobody sends stuff like that through the Pony Express anymore, so if I want to see periodic pictures of my grandson during his transition from two feet six to six feet two I either have to jump on a plane/train to where he lives on a regular basis or learn how to speak “lol-wtf” and check the story out on Facebook where I can get minute by minute reports of every new accomplishment or behavioral abomination. Film at eleven.

Another thing I enjoy is the ability to maintain some sort of connection with people I haven’t seen for more than fifty years. The question is, If I haven’t had any contact with someone for more than fifty years, was that because we couldn’t find each other or because we didn’t give enough of a crap to even try? Nevertheless, I find myself doing what I suppose a lot of other people do by conducting periodic searches for good old “What’s-His-Face”.

The diversion was fun when it all started to build up a head of steam and I got my first computer back around 1991 or so. “AOL On LINE” was all the rage, and it went downhill from there.

At some point, I began to take a serious look at the whole thing and came up with sort of a cognitive cartoon of a guy sitting in the middle of an offal pit muttering “wtf….?” Why am I here, and what am I going to do about it, if anything?

“Social” network

I understand the concept of “social networking”, but from a more archaic perspective than the one I believe the term is now supposed to imply. I studied the behavioral sciences in college and worked in related fields for twenty five years. I guess I just like to figure out what makes people tick. I’m not unique in that endeavor by any means, but, other than a whole passel of books, my academic and experiential learning involved predominantly direct, physical, sensory contact. The social skills I learned, and then learned to teach; the communication skills I learned, and then learned to teach, required visual, auditory, and vocal interaction.

Essentially, “social networking” still means the same thing it has since the term was coined, but the Digital Revolution has injected significant changes to both methodology and outcomes.

In my book, there’s nothing particularly social about keyboarding consonant salads while riding a bicycle, talking on the phone, and forwarding lame jokes to anybody with a connection. It’s the communications cognate of tossing a golf ball onto a gymnasium floor covered from wall to wall, end to end, with carefully balanced dominos and then bragging about your aim.

A social network is a structure of connections. Getting ahead in the world, or just plain getting around for that matter, is often a matter of who you know as much as it is of what you know. “Connecting” requires a little more than just copying the names off of the bathroom wall. Connections require more intimacy than that, though that can certainly vary from someone you met at a workshop once and had some interests in common with, or it can be life-long best friends and people you might have met through them. A connection has either a purpose or a potential purpose, so there is value in maintaining that association. The value may be socially vague, as in you just enjoy hanging out together, or specifically business oriented, but it fulfills a need.


One thousand, three hundred sixty four friends? Pardon my enunciated English but, “give me a goddamned break!” I’ve lived in towns with fewer people than that. That’s bigger than many battalions, and they all wear nametags to help out. People who can’t get through a pop quiz without a crib sheet claim to have five hundred or a thousand “friends” or more. I’d bet a kidney they couldn’t recite all of their names. For that matter, I bet they couldn’t name the members of their high school graduating classes. Let’s bump it up a rung. I bet not one of them could rattle off their home room roster!

To me, a “friend” is someone who knows my name, address, phone number, and a whole bunch of personal stuff about me that others don’t and that I think of as being “private”. A friend is someone with whom you trust “private” stuff, because that is part of your essence, part of who you are. I have extremely few friends, and I’m married to one of them.

A friend is not just somebody I bumped carts with in Wal-mart, both of us smiling pleasantly and nodding insinuated apologies while at the same time mumbling “Stupid shit!” But, it seems to be that way in the digital dimension. If you encounter someone in cyberspace and exchange enough information to equate a Real World Wal-mart smile or nod, it’s friend city! People collect “friends” like baseball cards or something, but without giving a toot about all of the stats. Numbers. Names and numbers. It’s more about ones and zeroes than what they may signify, anyway.

What is an “acquaintance”? I never hung out with an “acquaintance”. I hung out with friends. My friend might have another friend that he invited along. I met him. We shook hands. He’s still my friend’s friend, not mine. I wouldn’t even call him an “acquaintance” at that juncture.


An odd phenomenon that has developed as an intricate characteristic of the Digital Dimension in general, and the Social Network environment specifically, is the innate absence of boundaries. Perhaps the fact that communication in this venue is a sharply abbreviated substitute for the traditional modes of exchanging information established over tens of tens of thousands of years. I learned that there is more to “communication” than just talking. It requires listening as well, and that isn’t all done with the ears. Effective listening involves observing “cues”, being able to “read” them, and responding constructively. Some people are highly skilled communicators, and some are lousy.

Communicating on the internet, as in social networking sites, loses the benefit of the “cues” we were taught; at least those over forty were. The development of a set of effective digital communications skills is still in the very early stages of learning by experience. As was true in the case of many experiments down through the ages, there are some explosions. Expressions such as “OMG” and “LOL” are somewhat like “cues”, but there are subtle differences in how they may be interpreted cross-culturally, just as are various facial expressions and gestures in the physical world.

I learned that only about 15% of what we call “communication” occurs in the form of actual words. I have no idea how that principle will be adapted for a universe where communication is dominated by impersonal electronic devices.


Along with the challenges of communicating effectively in the digital, electronic environment of social networking sites and tools like Twitter, Skype, and others (at least with Skype one has access to visual and auditory cues), there are the issues of boundaries, personal space, and privacy. With Google, Facebook, and other amassing huge databases of personal information about users, and interconnecting through multiple subsidiaries and functions, the traditional understanding of personal “boundaries” is losing its traditional value as “currency” in the digital “society” just as it has been for a generation in the “real” world.

The physical society, now undergoing adaptations and changes in its system of social mores, at the same time the brand new cyber-society is thrashing about to discover a beginning system of its own, makes for a considerable amount of miscommunication. As with the disruption in communication cues, the dilution, or even elimination, of personal boundaries removes important guidelines relied upon for interpersonal relationships.

I have, like others, observed the irony of people raging indignant about electronic surveillance while at the same time feeding Google and Facebook, et al, by the gigabyte with everything but their monthly bank statements.

On being cut adrift…

Consequently, I need a strategy for effectively and comfortably insinuating myself into the Digital Dimension to a degree established and managed by ME rather than by some
putz telecommuting from his recliner, or worse yet, from the can.

The last time I happened upon this convergence of realities, I simply quit in a snit. That was silly. Quitting is a viable option, I just don’t like the idea of doing it while simultaneously trying to juggle a mouthful of invective.

What I think I’m going to do is bring my modest FRIENDS list back to a basic “everybody gets everything” status and then work back from there. People with whom I “communicate” (archaic definition) on a regular basis, or with whom I happen to share a HUGE amount of genetic material, will be right there at the top, like the cream on an old bottle of milk.

People with whom I bumped carts at Wal-mart, though I don’t think I really have any of those, will be “unfriended“. The insinuated emotional blackmail inherent in that term is obvious, which may help to explain why so many people have hundreds of “friends”.

People who somehow showed up on my list because they knew a relative or friend, and I didn’t want to miff my relative or friend, will just have to find someone else’s family pics to poke through.

I’m starting to “friend” a whole bunch of folks from my high school class because we have a big reunion this year. Once the main shindig is over and done with, we’ll probably go back to not being aware of each other’s existence for the next fifty years or some reasonable portion thereof. Nothing personal, but if we didn’t hang out together back in the fifties and sixties, and haven’t been within a thousand miles of each other for the last fifty years, who cares? I wish everyone well. Congratulations to all of us for still being on this side of the lawn. Don’t take any wooden nickels.

That may sound harsh, but I really don’t think anybody will know or give a toot that their mooring line has been cut since most of those to be thusly cut loose don’t even know they’ve been moored in the first place. Like me, they’ve got more important things to worry about.


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