Daily Prompt: T.M.I.

Most of us will live somewhere around 28,000 days (75 years, give or take), and it is estimated that most Americans meet three new people every day. That comes to approximately 80,000-plus people you have met or will meet in person in your life.

(Do you say a personal hello to the person who takes your money for coffee in the morning? Count that person, or start saying hello more frequently and don’t be a Scrooge.)

I have worked as a college teacher, a reporter, and as a retail salesman, and I attend various support groups through the week, so my numbers might wind up skewed a bit higher than that, so perhaps I have already met 50,000 on my way to more than 80,000.

That is a small city, 50,000, or even 80,000. It is as if I never left Poughkeepsie, New York, my hometown, and set out to shake hands with every permanent resident there, never had any other ambitions, and never left. We would call that a weird life, a not-very fulfilling one, but that number describes most of our lives. We do not meet all that many people. It is a football stadium, and not a large one.

Going back a couple generations, when a person could live an entire life in one town, which my grandmother who lived to be 98 did, a person probably met about three people a day. Maybe two-and-a-half. One of my great-grandmothers grew up in Pinsk, traveled across Europe with a baby in her arms, came through Ellis Island, and eventually lived out her years in Poughkeepsie. She probably met three people a day. We call our lives more complicated, and claim they are growing more so, but they really are not. Not in person. I do not think that this has changed by a large quantitative margin over the generations. Most of us know, truly know, only a handful of people at any moment; many of us do not even know the names of all eight of our great-grandparents.

I have not included my online life here. Not yet. According to WordPress, this blog has received over 3600 visitors from 50 countries, from some time in late January to today, at an average visitor count of 14 per day. (Since I started publishing every day, the numbers have increased; 1300 visits have been tallied in the last seven weeks.) I have exchanged personal notes with a few readers who make me blush when I think that they know my writing almost as well as I do. I hope I am an encouraging reader for writers, as well.

Until recently, I have limited my Facebook life to friends I personally know, but I have lifted that self-imposed stipulation recently and I am happy I have. I have under 400 Twitter followers and have had perhaps a dozen lengthy personal Tweet-exchanges of some depth in my three or so years on there. In my online life, as in my in-person life, thousands of encounters to find a handful of true friends I value and hope to someday meet.

When we claim that our lives are more complicated and information-packed, we are not, not most of us, speaking of our personal lives. We are reflecting that we have given ourselves the great gift of more. There are more outlets, more ways to declare to any who will read or listen that we are living a “purpose-driven life” or some other catchphrase (sorry, Rick Warren) without actually living that life. If I am telling you I am living one kind of life or another, how do I have so much time to testify to this? (There are exceptions; sometimes the testimony is a part of walking a walk.)

And every song not only has a singer but a listener, it seems. Everything we hear and read is, in its rawest sense, “information,” but not all of it is necessary. What you prepared for dinner certainly is information, and if I send you directions to my house, that is information as well. We can and will filter out each other. I can give you a virtual thumbs-up on a nice-looking meal and forget I did while doing so. You might be amused I sent those directions that we both know you will ignore.

There is a lot of noise in this world because everyone seems to have purchased a mic and an amp and kept their utility bills up-to-date. This just means good has more ways of declaring itself and so does evil. The numbers of people wanting to be heard have not changed over the centuries, the tools to be heard have.

One hopes that most of the people that we truly know and love contribute more to the information side of our lives and less to the noise.

“… Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows …”

—”Everybody Knows,” Leonard Cohen

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 15 asks, “‘Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.’—Gertrude Stein”