Everyone talks about how it has become harder and harder to connect with other people, despite technology closing all the gaps, making communication easier. This does not only apply to meeting new people but also staying connected with people you already know. We all to an extent agree the same technology allowing us to more easily connect is the same reason we have a harder time connecting now. But the mechanism does not seem to be discussed as much. My belief that the challenge to connect with others lies in our limited capacity to experience and retain life experiences.
Technology has brought us to a point where the experiences we can have as humans have exponentially increased. If we wanted to learn cooking, understand what life is like in another country, we can easily search the web for websites, articles that can give us insight into our interests. This brings us a breadth of experience that the generation before us could not easily access.
On the other hand we also now have a wealth of information accessible to us for different reasons. First, as discussed above, technology has made the transfer of any form of knowledge easier than before. Second, the number of new discoveries human civilization has been making in different domains have been increasing exponentially with the help of technology. This, in turn, contributes to the available depth in each domain.
We can all easily become experts if we chose to put the time in to do research. The flip side is that we now are able to have more unique experiences relative to other people in our lives due to the increased domain space. However, with an increased domain space, yet a limited capacity to experience these domains, the probability of sharing experiences with other people has now effectively decreased.
This experience capacitance can be approached from different angles. The easiest example would be time. We simply don’t have time to experience everything. With 9-5 jobs, the possibility of coming across shared experiences with your friends who have different jobs, or are in a different stage of life is statistically impossible. Sure there is a reason we sit down over drinks on Friday to talk about life, but the tremendous “depth” of backstory needed to express your experiences sometimes makes us keep our mouths shut.
Another way of viewing experience capacitance is in the medium. We have multiple ways of obtaining new information. Reddit, Instagram, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn….etc. The app that you stick to and people/groups you follow will largely affect your shared, discussable experiences. I struggle with this tremendously because I don’t watch sports, I have no interest in politics, and I do not actively follow local news. On the flip side, I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts and browsing Reddit. Surprisingly, this ends up separating me from the majority of people I interact with.
Making things worse, with the introduction of advertisement and tailored media suggestions, it seems that you get caught into specific niches on the internet or even the bookstore that your friends won’t have interest in.
To visualize, imagine going to a bookstore with your friend, but you are only allowed to leave with 10 books. The reason being, you simply do not have the time to read all of them. Say 50 years ago, books were expensive, so bookstores carry only 100 different titles.
The chances of both of you choosing the same book as book number 1 are: 1/100*1/100 = 0.0001. This is because the combination of choosing 1 book from 100 is 100; there are 100 ways to chose 1 book from 100. Choosing the same book #2 out of 100? That would be (1/4950)^2 = 4.0812162e-8 because choosing 2 unique books from 100 gives 4950 combinations. Now consider: choosing 10 books from a 100 gives you 17,310,309,456,440 combinations. I won’t do the math considering math was my worst subject all through life, you get the idea.
To further this analogy, 50 years later, bookstores (read: The internet) can carry thousands of books. The simple combination calculation above doesn’t even account for the biases we have walking into the bookstore (Consider your friend only reading fiction, and you only reading non-fiction). Sure with friends you already made, your interests must have been similar to become friends in the first place, but there are so many variables in life that most of us only have so much in common to talk about.
Now it is important to realize that those small probabilities of sharing the same book are the effect, not the cause! The cause is our capacity of being able to read 10 books. We all only have 24 hours a day, a few of which are dedicated to working, a few of which to sleep and eat. This means even though 50 years later, there are thousands of more books available, we can still only read 10.
Perhaps this is only a sentiment shared by someone struggling to connect with people these days. On the surface to most, I am confident what I display is non-interest. But I simply struggle to find people with the same experiences to talk about. Sure sharing 1 experience is great, but being able to express the cross-pollination of concepts between 5 books is such an amazing and wonderful thing to come across.
This was inspired by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace, in Part II (p.137) where the narrator describes:
“It’s a problem of our time. The range of human knowledge today is so great that we’re all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the people around him. The lunchtime here-and-now stuff is a specialty too”