Socially mediated

I’m an introvert. Hardcore. I play the game well and a lot my coworkers in particular might not even recognize it, but I’m not especially “social” and I generally am quite happy with my own company most of the time. This has a lot to do with my being an only child and probably has even more to do with the fact that I had very few friends in general until I got to college and have always felt very socially awkward. I never really absorbed that whole social interaction thing correctly, though I have gotten really good at “faking it” particularly though my long past working in retail and my current career, which involves a lot of collaboration, interaction, and public speaking.

I’ve been communicating online (often as my primary medium) for more than twenty-five years. In the late 1990s, back when this site was really popular, I carried on regular email correspondence with many, many people in many, many places. Seriously, there were few places in the U.S. I could go where I didn’t know someone within on or two area codes. Even then, though, it was all asynchronous. I was not hanging out in AOL chatrooms or message boards or IRC (except maybe to download pirated software or porn on the latter). It was all sort of “old school”: email using complete sentences, etc.

Things changed a bit when I got partnered. Frankly, I neglected a lot of friendships because I really only had so much “social” in me and I felt like I should probably be giving most of that to my partner. That’s not an unusual or bad choice but in retrospect, I do have some regrets about it. Between neglect and the fact that the website because less and less of a medium because people weren’t really interacting that way so much anymore, I found that I had a much smaller social circle ten years later when I found myself single again.

I tiptoed into social media while in grad school and eventually got pretty active on Facebook as a way of keeping up with friends, which was nice for quite a while. I also did Twitter, but that was always more about using it as a reading list and a place to promote content on the other site. I generally avoided much engagement in general on Twitter and didn’t really join in on arguments and heated discussions very often on any platform.

Mid-pandemic, in the summer of 2020, I suddenly swore off Facebook. There was some specific interaction that pushed me in that direction (oddly enough, I don’t remember exactly what it was) but it was something I had been thinking about for a long time. I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore; it started feeling like work. I liked the aspect of keeping up with friends, but so many of my friends were no longer posting anything personal to begin with. It was all either politics or memes about how awful everything was. And I already knew how awful everything was. I didn’t need to spend time doom scrolling my friends’ posts to realize that. About the same time, I swore off news sites for a good while too, and was basically only watching The National on CBC every night because it was less awful. I tried to unfollow or mute the friends who were the worst “offenders” but after a while I just hated logging on, so I stopped. And I sort of regret that too because I lost touch with a lot of people I really like. But I couldn’t do it anymore.

I stuck with Twitter, oddly enough, just because I could tailor it to my needs and curate what I read. And it was great for a few years. But then, as the Muskrat took over, that functionality went away, and with it went most of the small group of people I interacted with there. Twitter basically just blew up one day and was never quite the same. I stuck around for a year, not posting as much and not spending as much time there. There were still things I followed regularly (most of them related to history, architecture, and urbanism) but increasingly people who used to post interesting material were abandoning ship as Twitter became more and more of a sewer.

I should have joined the exodus last year. I didn’t. I’m doing it now. And I’m not sure which platform comes next, if any. I have an account on Mastodon, but I mainly repost things from Twitter and Flicker there to an audience that’s a fraction of what I had on Twitter and I don’t otherwise engage. Threads does not impress me and Instagram never did, so a return the Land of Meta is not in the horizon. I do Flickr sometimes, but that was always more about sharing photos (and hosting them for the site) than about socializing. And BlueSky? Who knows? Maybe I’ll just start getting better about adding content here again and conversing by email. Probably not.

The social aspect is hard. I’ve sworn off most social media, I hate talking on the phone, and no one corresponds by email anymore except for work. What’s left?

All of this is not to suggest that I don’t have friends whose company I enjoy and with whom I still interact regularly (in person, even). But I’m increasingly worried that my isolation may be growing, particularly since many of my closest friends live nowhere near me. I think this is a pretty common worry for us introverts and other “non-joiners” for whom online communication worked well until it didn’t.



I found out about two weeks ago that one of my oldest friends (and my backyard neighbor as a child) was killed in a car wreck recently. We were pretty good friends through high school, which was a bonus for me because I didn’t have many. We worked together at McDonald’s (hold your tongue) and I had both my first beer and my first cigarette with him. We had not stayed close over the years but I would run into him once in a while since his mother still lived across the yard from my parents. He had sort of a rough childhood, with an abusive, alcoholic father and a very sweet mother who always seemed a little “off.”

As it happens, I also introduced him to his first wife. She was a high school friend and they married probably right as he graduated from college. They were among the first few people I ever came out to. I was in their wedding. I also sort of new it was not going to last, and I was right. I liked both of them, but they were not a match made in heaven. I think they split up after a few years; I was living somewhere else at the time and we’d sort of lost touch. He remarried twice after that and had three daughters.

Anyway, I was looking online to see if there would be a memorial service and I was also wondering if anyone had told his first wife. When I looked her up, I found that she had also died about four years ago (cancer, I think).

So that made for kind of a depressing day. A lot of my good friends have died young, and most of them not from the causes you might expect.


A productive pandemic

When I get overwhelmed or start wondering where the last year went, I remind myself that since March I have:

  • Co-authored a book that should be published later this year
  • Migrated one of the largest library digital collections in the state to a new content management platform (link later)
  • Participated in the salvation of American democracy
  • Added a bunch of new cities to Groceteria
  • Eighty-sixed Facebook
  • Rebuilt a friendship that had been dormant for almost thirty years
  • Watched at least a hundred vintage episodes of “What’s My Line?”
  • Become disturbingly conversant in the MODS metadata schema as well as several new XML tools
  • Supervised three student capstones and independent studies
  • Managed to avoid getting a COVID-related illness
  • Done a few pretty good media interviews (radio, national magazine, well-trafficked blog)
  • Read many good books (and bought way too many more)
  • Never hoarded toilet paper and also never run out of same
  • Managed three big grant projects simultaneously and remotely
  • Only gained about five pounds and actually ended up with better labs than last year
  • Stayed reasonably sane

Try it yourself. It helps!

By the numbers

Things insomnia made me count. In my life I have:

  • Owned 3 houses and rented 5 apartments.
  • Lived in 3 states (4 if you count a vacation home).
  • Had 2 roommates (not counting a few temporary situations of less than a month).
  • Had 1 (common law) husband.
  • Owned 9 cars.
  • Had 6 traffic accidents, 2 of which were ruled my fault.
  • Spent time in 3 countries, including 45 U.S. states and 6 Canadian provinces.
  • Had sex in at least 24 states.
  • Had phone numbers with 5 area codes.
  • No brothers or sisters, but 14 first cousins (approximately 12 of whom are still alive).
  • Spent 2 nights in a hospital (not counting when I was born).
  • Been to 0 high school class reunions (with plans to attend 0 more).
  • Had 5 primary home computers (all Macs, which is why I had each one for so long).
  • Had 3 full-time employers (though I had multiple positions in multiple locations for the first two, plus a ton of part-time and freelance employers).
  • Had 4 medical procedures for which I was put completely under.

Furniture City/Beer City

Grand Rapids is known as “Furniture City.” So is High Point, North Carolina.

Grand Rapids is known as “Beer City.” So is Asheville, North Carolina.

Grand Rapids is very different from either place. It sort of fascinates me, because it’s never really seen the depopulation that most other cities in the Upper Midwest have. There have been decades where the population declined a bit, but current estimates show that the city is currently at its highest population ever. And it reads like a much bigger city than it is, in some ways. The downtown area is aided by the presence of a major medical facility and several universities and colleges.

There are a ton of craft breweries and some interesting neighborhoods. The main public library rocks.

This is the first time in quite a while that I’ve spent a significant amount of time in a city I’d never visited before. And best of all, I got to hang out with a friend I hadn’t seen in almost 13 years. Bonus all the way around.