Sunday, 28 October 2007

The ‘Good Old Days’

It is a sad reflection on our modern society that we so often have to hide behind our computer identities. In the ‘good old days’ (and, yes, I know they weren’t really good for most people) if two folk of like mind met they would swap cartes de visites and one would call on the other for tea. Cartes de visites were those lovely miniature photos that people had made when they went to the High Street photographer. After a few meetings under the formal conventions of the ‘never more than half an hour’ visit during ‘receiving’ time in the mid-afternoon a greater friendship might develop and much less formal contact become possible.

Nowadays we dare not even let people know our e-mail address for fear of what they might get up to. I have found an apparently like-minded and pleasant woman who lives in Devon – where my younger daughter resides – and with whom it would be nice to chat over a cup of e-mailed tea. My intentions are strictly honourable – I’m happily married (probably old enough to be her father though one doesn’t ask a lady these things!) and live two hundred miles away. Judging by the fact that she feels free to call her husband The Weirdo she too seems happily married! But dare I ask her for her e-mail address let alone her real address to send her a Christmas card if the friendship developed? No,

Why not? Fear. Fear that she may think I’m even more of a weirdo than her husband or that I will fill her e-mail box full of spam. Or, alternatively, that I have misjudged her and she will either bombard me with e-mails or give my address to some spammer. Jo and I have both had e-mail addresses that we had to give up because of spam and nowadays we each have half a dozen identities. One for the family (a strictly guarded secret); one for key friends, one for casual friends, one for work (in my wife’s case); one for internet purchases....

Recently I had quite a lengthy correspondence with a girl in Illinois – it was great fun, amusing and educational . But neither of us ever suggested swapping e-mail addresses we did it by leaving comments on each others blogs. Perhaps that should be enough but somehow a message that can be read by anyone seems so much less personal and satisfying than a direct e-mail. And, as soon as I wrote that I thought “Will people think I want to say things I wouldn’t say in public?” The answer, of course, is no.

For similar reasons I am very careful how I talk to small girls in the street. If one falls over and hurts her knee you have to be very careful how you touch her as you pick her up. Fear of being mistaken for a pervert requires that one is strictly professional in how you deal with her. Gone are the days when you could have picked her up off the ground, given her a hug and carried her back home with soothing noises.

I am not one who bothers much about what people think of me. They can take me or leave me, that is their choice. But I won’t be someone I am not just to make friends or keep contacts alive other than is demanded by the basic social graces. I spent years in work having to act a part. Now I am retired on ill health and I am just me. But for some reason I would be very bothered if people thought I had ulterior motives in doing good, in spreading a little cheer, or hugging someone better.

It is a shame that the internet has made finding like-minded people so much easier and yet, at the same time, divorced us from them through fear.

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