Browsing Limitations

I sometimes wonder if some forms of social media and on-line interaction do to friendships what on-line bookstores do to reading. As a kid, I loved going to libraries and to the wonderfully cluttered and musty used bookstores in town to just browse, picking books up at random and flipping through them until something caught my eye. On-line bookstores are much more efficient when it comes to finding a particular book or a particular subject or a particular author with no beating about the bush, but the old way led me to books on subjects and by authors I would never have stumbled across through a “Recommended for You” section. I think I’m richer for that.

Facebook is a little similar. It makes it really easy to keep in touch with a select group of friends and family, and the friends you meet through those select few. But you lose some of that spontaneous magic that used to come from chance encounters.

In restaurants and airports and even parks, you see people glued to their screens, interacting with the same people wherever they go. It does make some things easier. As an introvert, I’m not sure how much I really miss, because I find it extremely difficult to make random connections and random conversation in the “real” world. But still, I wonder.

August 21, 2015

If you start out with the assumption that someone is a self-serving and horrible person, everything they do or don’t do–no matter how innocent–will appear to be self-serving and horrible. If they, for instance, go out to a movie or to a concert, it’s because they’re frivolous and selfish. If they fail to share that one article on Facebook, it’s because they’re a cowardly hypocrite. If they donate time or money to a good cause, it’s because they’re angling for something.

Even the most charitable acts can start to seem monstrous. This is how you get people who think Mother Teresa did everything she did out of some perverse desire for recognition.

I’m not saying any of us are Mother Teresas, and I’m absolutely not saying that objectively wrong acts can be forgiven because the doer had good intentions. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t hurt to give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s better to err on the side of thinking people are better than they are than to spend your whole life despising everyone for the ulterior motives you’ve assigned them in your head, which may be miles from the truth.