The "number of people who said they had no one with whom to discuss [important] matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent." Americans social circle of intimate friends has been shrinking since 1985, cites a study to be published in the June 2006 issue of American Sociological Review, the General Social Survey (GSS), "one of the nation's longest running surveys of social, cultural and political issues.
"When the survey was conducted in 1985, Americans most commonly said they had three close friends whom they'd known a long time, saw often, and with whom they shared a number of interests. They were almost as likely to name four or five close friends, and the relationships often sprang from their neighborhoods or communities." - "Living to Work Can Be a Lonely Life," PhillyBurbs.com, June 27, 2006
'Core' confidants, trusted friends, close friends, friends to lean on are just some ways we describe those allies and family members that will bare their souls with us when we're otherwise surrounded by weather banter and last night's reality TV show analysis at the water cooler.
Way easy to fault others' inane chatter and, why, heck, maybe the Internet's partly to blame for your lack of close friends.
"Whenever people come, there is useless talk. Whenever I go, and visit, I have the unpleasant feeling of interfering with other men's business. Now I can do nothing better than follow the examples of Sun Ching and Tu Wu-lang, who confined themselves within locked doors. Friendlessness will become my friend, and poverty my wealth." - Matsuo Basho
As you can see Japanese Zen haiku poet Basho got awfully close to becoming a hermit himself and he didn't even have the depravity of the West to blame. Not the excuse of a grueling 9-to-9 corporate job with the tiresome commute on 101 amid the Valley sprawl. No, not even tech.memeorandum or his Second Life tore him away from close kinship. In fact, he wailed the above complaint in the crisp autumn of 1693.Friends, we sigh collectively, you can't live with 'em, you can't live without 'em.
Trust, authenticity, and social search came up over and over again at last week's Supernova conference. David Parmet tells me the backchannel folks played a virtual drinking game chugging a make-believe 'shot' each time a speaker mentioned the phrase "user generated content."
"Thank god you're not really at a bar," I replied.
- Which factors make you most comfortable purchasing a product (source: Mediaedge) - 76% say because "a friend recommended it"
- What's the best source for advice on a new product (Yankelowich) - (Highest percentage of options, but I missed precise number) - "Another consumer"
- Among best sources for new ideas about products? (NOP) - 92% say friends
My two cents: The trend to listening to friends (word-of-mouth ain't new) and customers like yourself extends beyond "well, marketers are sleazy, journalists lap up everything PR dishes." I really think it's a hunger for connection, for intimacy, for safe and genuine human bonding, for expression, for expansion especially as social circles contract to our nuclear family.
"Things go in cycles. People are [gravitating] to smaller groups," said Mena Trott, co-founder, SixApart on Thursday commenting on a question about mass communities. Several informal hallway conversations raved about Wednesday's more intimate, smaller "give and take" workshop format. It's hard to follow that up with the auditorium lecture format of Thursday, Friday -- and at least one attendee I know decided that she'd already experienced the climax Wednesday, so she skipped the rest of the conference.
At Supernova's Thursday lunch I'm chatting with Mike Sigal and we're chatting about art, bohemianism, and bacchanals, so I figure it's as good a time as any to mention an event idea I've been kicking around. I get a fraction into my 30-sec description and he blurts, "Oh, a salon!" He got it in only two notes. I shared my dilemma finding appropriate space. "And it's got to be a garden, it's a Garden of Eden, forbidden fruit theme," I said.
I think that's when Mike realizes I must be fixated on mass scale, Techcruch Riya sold-out bash size. "Think intimate, 20 people max, three featured artists." Duh. In a super-size me, all-you-can-eat buffet, megahit nation, it's easy to forget that only a handful of poets attended Kenneth Rexroth's Friday salon (think Ginsberg, Kerouac, Synder). And they sent merely one hundred postcard invites for their infamous Howl reading launching a poetry renaissance and one can claim the entire countercultural movement of late 50s, sixties.
Yet who cares if we don't launch any movements, anyhow. We will have moved ourselves to create art, and to unlock our own hearts.
"When you wake up, you wake up out of this [illusion of] "me and you"...there is no such thing as a personal relationship between a you and a me...There is no Other. Look at the implications of awareness that there is no other." - Emptiness Dancing, Adyashanti (some transposing done)
I'll say something radical, and then we can go on like I didn't say that. Having one intimate relationship where you go all the way in depth, where the idea of even relating disappears, the artificial sense of boundary melts, is plenty. It's not a numbers game when it's all One.
The roots of anxiety are embedded
In the delusion that every one of us
Is an island unto ourselves,
Alone and separate, each from the other. - the Siddha Kalapa
It's not a numbers game. "I only read about 10 blogs a day religiously. Each of those blogs is written by a person I know and love," confessed danah boyd weeks ago. "I am glad I am not alone", replies venture capitalist blogger Fred Wilson. I'll refrain from commenting how many blogs I now read lest I offend anyone. Most days it's in the single digits. Way down from the 350+ I used to track two years ago. (p.s. You don't track your friends.)
I only reply to a mere fraction of the comments and emails I receive (I read everything) because I'd need a clone. I don't worry anymore how "unprofessional" that is, how many folks are peeved that I've ignored them - it's either that or I'd unravel the real life connection to people right in front of me. So I've given absolute priority to face-to-face connections.
"Love doesn't sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new." - Ursula K. LeGuin
"I find that my family, friends, colleagues, and readers emailing me links, tagging them for me in delicious, and leaving them in the comments is the single most useful way to stay on top of what's important," adds Fred in another post (an investor in delicious btw) while musing "Is Meta Better?"
Yahoo's VP of Product Strategy, Bradley Horowitz, at Supernova concurs: We're onto the fourth phase of search (1-human editorial, 2- mass automation, 3-topological analysis), social search, which combines all three, editorial + automation (it's not just a couple of Stanford students named Jerry and David doing the grunt work) + your friends.
In the daytime, a bolt is fastened
On the frontyard gate. - Basho
We live in an age where we collect 'friends' like trading cards on MySpace, Tribe, LinkedIn (David Sifry's quip), and as in any age it is habitual to keep the bolt of our heart fastened. I know in my own life I've said I want intimacy, but I've often run in the opposite direction. My therapist was my close confidant four years ago. (Less than the whopping average of 2.08 the study cites - thank god for those fractional friends!)
Today I easily count at least eight extremely close friends; friends I can count on to discuss the bread and wine of life, and ones that would share their last dollar with me as I with them if need be.
Paradoxically, at the same time every person that enters my life in person, however briefly, be it in line for a jasmine green tea with tapioca pearls at the mall or sitting across from me at Peet's or riding BART into the city enters my life like a momentary shooting star and is my best friend at least while they are in my presence, even though we may never meet again physically, tangibly, they have my full attention now. I've had conversations on near-death experiences, God, sex, unconditional love, divorce, heartbreak, art, everything under the moon with complete strangers on a weekly, and damn near daily, basis of late.
So-called strangers, momentary shooting stars, kindred spirits, while not counted among our 2.08 confidants, give me the felt sense that if time and space were unbounded, every being in the world could become my dearest cherished friend. For instance, Pieter commented on a recent post covering happiness, luddites, and local farmer's markets:
I don't know Pieter. Then again, I absolutely know Pieter:
"For a while now, I've had this vague desire to buy local produce, preferably organic, but local above all."
Me too. I have this urge to meet my neighbors. To spend time with birders Beatice and Don living down the block and borrow their binoculars as they teach me to look for robins and hummingbirds. I have the urge to eat food grown by goodhearted people I can laugh in person with and touch the very same strawberries and cherries and peaches they've plucked with their own bare hands ripe. I adore paying cash nearly everywhere to feel the real texture of the paper and metal between my palms and thus ground the person-to-person, mano a mano exchange.
I have the urge to buy from booksellers that picked the selections in their window displays themselves. Quirky selections like The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture. Ones that will chat with me about literature and not ask me how you spell Wallace Stegner or Jack Kerouac. So it was no surprise, really, that hours later after I've bought The Omnivore's Dilemma at Stacey's (their signs encourage shoppers to buy local) at the close of Supernova Friday, I see Pieter writing about the very same book too.
And Basho's morning glory? That locked gate? His resignation to friendlessness? Poetry is dug from the earth of a poet's life:
"Obviously, Basho wished to admire the beauty of the morning-glory without having to keep a bolt on his gate. How to manage to do this must have been the subject of many hours of meditation within the locked house. He solved the problem, at least to his own satisfaction, and reopened the gate about a month after closing it," says Stephen Kohl, Japanese Literature prof (see also Basho's "Narrow Road to the Deep North).
From nihilism and hermitage, Basho flung open the garden gate unto "lightness." His later haiku collections "reject sentimentalism and take a calm, carefree attitude to the things of daily life, they often exude lighthearted humor." That Zen poet's path, this poet's path to Friendness converge:
He found that while "a sensitivity to things" expanded his awareness of beauty it also expanded his awareness of suffering. This heightened awareness of both beauty and suffering leads some people to despair. This is because our capacity to tolerate suffering in those around us seems to decrease as our awareness increases. When faced with an increase in awareness of suffering, many people instinctively turn away from sensitivity and become hardened, detached or distracted.
The Buddhist culture around Basho taught non-attachment as the correct approach to suffering. Non-attachment was not a turning away from suffering, but a calming of the emotional reactions to suffering through practice of the eightfold path. All other solutions were seen as delusions or deceptions.
Contrary to this prevailing belief, Basho demonstrated that we can avoid developing hard hearts without practicing non-attachment if, instead, we experiece our attachments in a deeper way. - "Wabi Sabi for Writers" article (can't wait for a copy of the July 2006 Wabi Sabi for Writers book)
Basho's path to enlightenment, to lightness, his 'Way of Elegance' is ultimately tantric. Delve into the heart of everything, throw yourself at the mercy of passion - beauty, suffering - rejecting nothing in its poignancy - with a no-holds-barred sensitivity, and in so doing the deepest intimacy and child-like exuberance splays open like a morning glory graced by the first sunbeams at dawn.
images from the backyard fence taken this morning...(except for Georgia O'Keefe's Morning Glory With Black that is)...believe it or not, I did not know how the morning glory got its name until just after 6:30 a.m. today it's not its trumpet-like self yet, oh no, it's a tight pinwheel tucked inward like a child's hugging pose, crouched, and then at some moment it awakens, greets the world wide wide open
Headline reference Scottish artist Momus: "In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people." tags web 2.0 social media user generated content supernova 2006 word-of-mouth social networking social software trust sociology spirituality poetry buy local
Bonus: Mother Teresa on befriending those who live right in our midst, and that there is a deeper hunger than bread alone can fill: