Saturday, May 01, 2004

Pure Relationships


or some years, now, I have had my students read an article from Sapio, a biweekly magazine in Japan. Perhaps a bit dated (1998.10.28), the article is interesting nonetheless. The title--loosely translated--is "Youth in search of pure relatioshinps, rather than intimate ones", the author, KAYAMA Rika, suggests that cell phones are popular because they fulfill the needs of today's youth, a need that is based on mutual interest rather than proximity.

She delineates, in very general terms, how personal communications has (d)evolved: as technology advances, there is a concomitant decline in communications. Personal communications was originall face to face, then with the written word came letters, then telephones, answering machines, faxes and finally e-mail. There is a disconnect with each advancement between personal touches like face time and handwriting to impersonal like printed text or screening phone calls. And then there were cell phones.

According to Kayama, cell phones have become the embodiment of impersonal relationships. While they seem to have simply replaced the standard telephone, many conversations are fragmented. Where are? or Meet me at the restaurant. Or See you in five. Almost like an intercom, it is rarely used to have long conversations. But taking the impersonal to another level, many young people in Japan use cells to contact random people. They will, at times, dial a random phone number. If an older person answers--like me, I guess--they will hang up. But if someone of their own age and of similar interests answers, they will talk further. Kayama claims that this is, in a way, a response to what the youth view as phony: the personal relationships of their parents.

The Japanese youth have been told to make friends with someone else because they live in the same neighborhood or go to the same school. But then they see their parents: They associate with others of the same company, sitting shoulder to shoulder pouring drinks for each other. But once the parent retires from the company, s/he no longer associates with them anymore. Is this friendship? they must wonder. So for these youth, searching for someone randomly by cell phone who shares simlar interests rather than physical space is perhaps a purer sort of personal relationship...

Previously, I was not too sure about her arguement. I often wondered if it was actually possible to meet people randomly, and befriend them without any idea of who they were other than just a voice through the phone. But I had my students read the article because it provided fodder for debate, which is always a good thing. Then last June 15...

A student of mine was going to Japan to study. Mr_Mephisto started a Xanga where she'd write about her exploits as an English teacher in the JET program. She told me to read it and to join if I wanted to leave her comments. So I did. (If you like reading my site, you should thank Mr_Mephisto; if not for her, I would not be here.) Although I just wanted to keep in touch with mystudents, I also started to write just for the heck of it, about things that were of interest to me. I wrote about Ichiro Suzuki in my second entry (June 16) concerning the name on his jersey. And tiggerj--who has not written in a while--not only ledt a comment, he subscribed! Who is this stranger? I wondered. Then the very next day, another subscriber, Nefarious_Hatter. Curious, I went to their sites and read what they wrote and commented... Then Sleetse subscribed as did Taku. Who are these poeple? But as the days turned into months, I have met and conversed and dialogued with a great number of people here on Xanga, not just my students. Indeed, most of the people I closely associate with are people I have never met. And it got me thinking--actually a student of mine brought it up first: Blogging seems to be the next step in the depersonalization of relationships that Kayama was talking about. We develop friendships--virtual or not--based on common interests alone, with people not only within a cell phone range but around the freakin' globe. A purer relationship, as Kayama might call it.

Now, these friendships are virtual, you may say. A friend without a unique face and warm body attached to it is just another global citizen. A human being to be sure, but a friend? Maybe not. But that doesn't keep me from feeling sad at this moment. One of my favorite Xangans--our own SleepingCutie who drew the two of us (yup, that's me on the right) at some imaginary onsen--has decided to go "incognito." Does this mean that she will open another site? Does it mean she is just taking a temporary leave of absence? I don't know. But I do know that I will miss her wit, her honesty, her playful joy online. And I am sad... I don't know what happened, and I hope it wasn't something serious. But I can only wish her the best... Take care, O-girl, I will sorely miss you.

No comments: