How many strangers do you follow?


I don’t mean net.celebs, or news sources or people you met at a conference once or know as fellow members of an online community or whatever. I mean: how many personal blogs do you regularly read which are written by people you have never met, never will meet, and know nothing about other than what they write on their blogs?

Last time I posted I was sort of asking what effect people thought the future, or at least the present, would have on those living in it. Joanna answered

There are more ways to contact someone, but as a result, people have become more aggressive at shielding themselves from being contacted.

Which I’m not sure I agree with. For me at least I think present technology makes me more open to being contacted, because I can offer all these gradated levels of access to me: people can read what I post online, or they can post on facebook or some other social networking site, or post on my personal blog, or send me an email, or IM me or text me or call me on the phone or hike up to my house and knock on the door. In more or less that order of intimacy. And I’m more comfortable about contacting others, because I too can select whatever degree of contact intimacy doesn’t feel like an intrusion, I can ease in slowly or just quietly maintain a connection.

If all those choices were suddenly cut back to what was available even just ten years ago, a lot of those connections simply wouldn’t exist. The barrier’s too high without those toe-dipping, less invasive options.

Joanna’s next sentence, though, I’m all kinds of getting behind:

Also, we have different notions of private and public as a result of reality TV, blogs, Twitter, etc.

I know a lot more about the people around me than I would if the only way to find out from someone, what do you think about when you’re awake at four in the morning, was to happen across them in a public space or to go knock on the door of their home.

These days we have more options: we set up anonymous blogs and then tell selected members of our friends about them, or we set up blogs and don’t tell anybody at all about them and let whoever finds them find them, or we blog under our real names or we just twitter status updates at four in the morning telling anyone who cares to listen who we are and what we’re doing.

Which brings me back to those strangers. Me, I count four longterm — others come and go but these have stuck around for a while:

  • An actor in Seattle whose day job is as some kind of IT person at a hospital
  • A professor who teaches statistics at what she terms the Large State University
  • A stay-at-home dad of a girl roughly the same age as my son, who watches a lot of movies
  • A writer prone to taking photos inside convenience stores and observing other peoples’ interactions in public spaces

I don’t know who these people are. For most I don’t even know their real names. But I know what they think about at four in the morning. Some I’ve read what they had to say for years, I’ve talked with, answered questions, offered advice.

None of this would have happened if the only choices for interacting with people were “public” or “private”.

And that’s with total strangers. With acquaintances, and with real friends, the public/private line gets even blurrier — there are more opportunities, not fewer.

Maybe I’m mistaking my own personal kinks for global trends here (I can sort of second-hand see how all this extra contact floating around might lead to the perception of needing to shield oneself from it.) And maybe I’m just engaging in OMG INTERNETS boosterism that was passé before the web had version numbers.

Anyway, this is what I think about at four in the morning.