The Physics of Friendship

In my freshman year of college, I was scared to death. I was away from home and family for the first time in my life. I was being exposed to new ideas. I was working toward my future. I was adulting with no instruction manual.

Fortunately I made an amazing friend, and we became practically inseparable. She was my lifeline. We were like binary stars. No pressure there, right?

She was from a different country, with a much more reserved culture. So when she occasionally acted rather cold, I cut her some slack. I’m a loyal friend, and that’s what loyal friends do.

And then one time she cut me out entirely. She avoided me and didn’t speak to me for about two weeks. I have no idea why. I didn’t have a clue then, either. That was the worst part about it. I had no idea what I had done to deserve such treatment. And since she was the only close friend I had made there, it felt like someone had scooped out my heart with a rusty grapefruit spoon.

Finally, her roommate couldn’t stand to see me so distraught, and forced her to talk to me. I was so relieved that I didn’t even question anything. I don’t even recall there being any awkwardness to our friendship after that. We just picked up where we left off. So be it.

During one of our breaks, she came to Florida with me and stayed with my family. Two years later, when I was studying abroad and she was bicycling across the United States, she left her bike in the garage of a total stranger in Texas, hopped a bus, and came to visit me in Mexico. In a time before internet, we would exchange 30-page letters with each other. I loved those letters.

I considered her my best friend. She never said the same to me. (That’s happened a lot in my life. A whole lot. It’s hurtful.)

Over time, we’ve drifted apart. Thirty-page letters are no longer feasible for either of us. Still, I continued to reach out, despite the oceans and continents between us.

She’s never been very comfortable with the internet. She doesn’t have a Facebook Page. She stopped answering e-mails at least a decade and a half ago. My attempts to connect have been ignored.

I still think of her often, but I’m no longer the girl I was at 17. I’m no longer willing to be the only one who makes an effort to sustain a friendship. I realize that I deserve more than I’ve gotten in recent decades. I know I’m a good friend to have. But I can’t force anyone to care.

In recent years, I’ve taken the Physics of Friendship much more seriously. Newton says that an object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless a force acts upon it. The same applies to friends. We are all objects in motion. If friends drift away, I used to try to be that force that slowed them down. Now my energy is much more limited.

Maybe I should stop viewing it as her pushing me away, and start looking at it as her pushing herself from me. Because I don’t need to go anywhere. I’m in a good place.

So when you feel that gap starting to widen with someone you care about, let ‘em drift, I say. You are not responsible for their motion. Don’t cling. Nothing ought to be that hard.

And then, too, letting go is sometimes all it takes for someone to want to return to your orbit. But mostly not, truth be told. Mostly not.

And that’s okay. As Max Ehrmann wrote, “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Drifting Apart

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Leave Us Alone

Have you noticed that more and more companies are making it nearly impossible for you to contact them through their websites? Some are particularly diabolical in their plots to tell us all to get stuffed. They provide a contact button, and when you click it, you have two options. Their mailing address (as if any of us write letters anymore) or their help center, in which you can speak to an automated phone system that sends you from one menu to the next, but ultimately does not help you at all, or you can post a message in a community forum where you get to commiserate with all the other frustrated customers out there who also have no idea what to do about their situations.

Am I alone in thinking this is a piss poor business model? I get it. The incessant ringing of the telephone means you actually have to do your job, and that gets expensive. But telling your customers that you can’t be bothered, that you’re happy to take their money but will do little or nothing to serve them, seems like the best way on earth to lose their loyalty. It might even get you the occasional disgruntled, mentally ill consumer visiting corporate headquarters with the ubiquitous AK47.

Ah but in this present atmosphere of monopolies, we, the customers, have fewer and fewer options when we’re dissatisfied. Many cities give you two possibilities for wifi at the very most, for example. So there’s not much we can do other than shout into the phone, “I need to talk to a HUMAN!!!!” and hope the robot will finally see reason.

I long for the day when the pendulum swings back the other way, when companies aren’t allowed to get too big to fail, and, due to the increase in competition, customer service becomes a priority once again. But I’m not going to hold my breath while listening to the Muzak that seems to be the soundtrack of my life these days.

do_not_disturb.svg

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Facebook Data

There’s been much ado about Facebook data of late. What do they know, and when did they know it? How is it used? And why do I keep getting pummeled with real estate ads when I’ve already bought my house?

A friend recently showed me this article that describes, among other things, how to download your own Facebook data. I was immediately intrigued. Since I am my very favorite subject, I immediately dropped everything and followed the instructions.

When you’re in Facebook, click that downward pointing arrow on the ribbon at the upper right. Then click settings. That should bring you to General Account Settings. Beneath that list of info, you should see the statement “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” Click it.

Now, if you’ve been on Facebook as long as I have, it is going to take a while to download this stuff. But it’s quite revealing when you do.

For instance, I had no idea how many apps I have been active in. Most of them I recognize from past use, at least, but some of them I don’t recognize at all. For example, what the hell is MeowShare? And Disqus?

And most interesting were the Ads Topics. These words and phrases are what companies use to target me with ads, and a lot of them are spot on. But then there are some that are really out there and unrecognizable, like “Charlton Athletic F.C” or “Mud (2012 film)”. Others are oddly vague, such as life, love, religion, cup, duck, and Louisiana. (Beats me.)

The index made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It has my birth date, my e-mail, my city, my relationship status, my family and friends, my education, my work history, all my indicated interests, and all my Facebook groups. Wow.

I mean, I knew Facebook had this information, of course. I’m the one who gave it to them. But seeing it all laid out in one neat little package was kind of freaky. And of course, I still have no idea what they actually have done with this information. The worst part is that I will never know for sure.

Am I going to get off Facebook? Probably not. This is the only way I keep in touch with many people. But now I’m going to feel as if someone is looking over my shoulder. And that’s not a pleasant feeling.

Facebook Eye

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Human Contact

The other night I had sort of a girls’ night out with a new friend. We had dinner, and then went to a storytelling/music event. I had a wonderful time. It was nice to talk to someone face to face who wasn’t a coworker. It’s been a long time. I’ve been entirely too isolated.

It was a beautiful evening, and we ate at a sidewalk café, and then went to a broiling hot venue to hear really good stories and really horrible music. The heat was so oppressive that I nearly passed out, but you know what? It was worth it.

There’s a lot to be said for human contact. It’s nice to have a touch stone, someone with whom to share your opinions, get feedback, and hear new perspectives. It’s also great to get out of your head for a while, and hear someone else’s stories and experiences. You can learn a lot that way.

It’s very easy, in this cyber world, to go for long stretches of time talking to people only via e-mail or Facebook or whatever. It’s contact, yes, but it’s an illusion. It can’t replace looking someone in the eye, or hearing someone’s voice, or sharing a plate of fried broccoli as you watch people walk by.

It’s easy to take the internet shortcut. We are all so busy and the world is so fast-paced. It takes a lot less effort to reach out in a virtual way. I’m not saying that you should stop your on-line activities, but if you take the time to have real contact, you reap many rewards. So maybe it’s time to turn off your computer and pick up the phone and invite someone for coffee. Just a thought.

by Carole Spandau at fineartamerica.com
by Carole Spandau at fineartamerica.com

Bother Me Not

Have you ever noticed that some websites seem to deliberately make it difficult for you to contact them? They either hide their “Contact Us” tab, befuddling all but the most determined, or don’t have one at all, or they make you jump through 20,000 hoops or they only provide their address and phone number, expecting you to take that extra step to get in touch, and banking on the fact that most of us won’t bother. This is HORRIBLE customer service.

It’s also an idiotic way to run a company. Often your customers will spot problems with your website long before you will, and can suggest ways to improve its functionality. Being responsive to these suggestions increases customer satisfaction and repeat business. Many’s the time I’ve simply gone elsewhere when I’ve bumped up against a site that isn’t user-friendly. If your site is full of dead links and bad grammar, the public won’t take you seriously.

I would love to be able to contact Facebook. I’ve had these two complaints/suggestions for years. But they don’t want to hear from me.

  • Issue one: Their message drop down menu. Have you ever clicked on the “other” option? Check it out. You might be surprised. I once found a year and a half old job offer sitting in there. They need to get rid of the “other” category and just let all your messages be all your messages. I’m a big girl. I can figure out what to delete.
  • Issue two: They need a place where you can write helpful descriptions about people on your friends list that will be visible only to you. Often I can’t remember why someone is there and how I even know them. It would be nice to be able to go to their page and look at a box that they can’t see where you can type, “I met this guy in 2011 through so and so, and we have xyz in common. But never discuss politics with him.”

And I wish WordPress, the site that hosts this blog, were a little easier to contact, too. I’d tell them that their latest improvements are giving me fits. If I click on the comment icon while in Firefox, nothing happens. And they’ve removed my ability to get to the comments from the drop down menu, so now if I want to look at my comments, the only way I’ve figured out how to get there is to click on statistics, then click on blog posts/add, then go to classic view, then click on comments. This, my friends, is a monumental pain in the a**.

And for pity’s sake, people, if you give your customers a mailing list option, include an opt out option that works on the bottom of every e-mail you send them. There’s nothing worse than signing up for something, regretting it, and then being perpetually pestered.

End of rant.

bad-web-design

[This example of a really bad website, and ways to avoid having one, can be found on this blog.]