Sunday 30 August 2009

Accept, Deny or Do Nothing At All?

This is the question that, from time to time, I ask myself in the context of online networking.

Like many other people, my profile can be found on several online platforms, one of which I have joined primarily for business reasons, the other ones for entertainment, fun and in the hope of coming across like-minded individuals and people who give me food for thought and interesting stuff to read, or simply to search for long-lost acquaintances and friends.

Ever since I have begun venturing into and setting up these networks some 5 years or so ago, I have been relatively successful in finding what I came looking for, but there are still some aspects to the whole networking thing that I do not fully understand, one them being the reasons for some people to contact me.

You know how that works: you get a "friends request" or a "contact request" (the naming varies from platform to platform, but you get the idea), and then you decide whether to accept or deny the request - or simply not act on it at all.

On a business platform, the obvious reason for someone to contact me would be because either that person is looking for something that I can offer, or they want to offer something I am looking for (which is clearly stated in my profile).
Not so different, although more subtly, when it comes to social networking platforms.
Someone who wishes to be my "friend" (which is not really what they can be if we have never even been in touch before, let alone met in the offlline world) is maybe of the opinion that what I list as my interests, likes and dislikes in my profile matches theirs.

And yet, I do get requests on both types of platforms that, at least at first sight, do not show any obvious reason for getting in touch with me: our business areas do not overlap at any point, and there are no common interests, taste in music or other such things.

Sometimes, I reply to the requestor, asking them in a friendly and polite manner (yes, I can be both, if necessary!) to give me at least one reason for their request.
More often than not, there is no reply. Ever. To me, that was that then, and after about a week or so, I delete the request.
In other cases, the people thus asked have replied in such pissed-off tone (which was really not necessary), putting into question my own motivation for being part of such a network.
But does it automatically mean I have to be "friends" with each and everyone on such a platform, only because I decided to join a network and create my own part of it?
Not to me, it doesn't.

That many of the requestors have not even bothered to look at my profile properly is evident to me. How else can I explain that I get requests to be "friends" with some heavy metal band or other, when NOTHING in my profile lets anyone believe I am into heavy metal? (This, of course, just being an example. You could replace "heavy metal" with "cooking", "football", "cars", "celebrities" and many other subjects I am not interested in.)
So, if they can't be bothered to look, why have they contacted me?
Are they merely collecting contacts, taking pride in the sheer number that sits next to their name?
If that is the case, then, thank you very much, I politely decline from being just another number.
Do nothing at all seems to be the worst option. I don't particularly like it myself when I am trying to get in touch with someone and all I get as a response is... nothing.

(See )

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Beauty, unexpected

Travelling by train seems to be good for my mind, as those precious few people who read this blog may have noticed, at least as long as I am not stuck for 1 3/4 hours in Fulda and lose my reservation along with the connection or some other such minor hiccup, courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.

My last train trip was to Cologne and back, where I spent the week working at a fair.

The ICE stops, among other places, in Mannheim, and so it was already slowing down when we came through the Handelshafen area there on our way in; otherwise, I would never have come across the unexpected beauty this blog entry is about.

Like all freight harbours (this one being the Rhine/Neckar harbour), it is far from picturesque.
It is surrounded by industrial zones and some rather shabby living quarters; the actual harbour area itself is dotted with dilapidated warehouses and rusty iron structures that once certainly served their purpose well but have long gone out of use.

Amidst all those boarded-up doors and smashed-in windows, sooty brick walls and crumbling concrete pillars, suddenly a tiny enclave of life and colour comes into view.
Someone has created a small garden on top of the flat roof of one of the more stable-looking buildings, complete with white-washed walls and potted plants.
There is even a deckchair, waiting for its owner to sit down and have a rest.
And the plants are not just put there and left to their own devices; they look well cared for and have been placed carefully so that they provide a little oasis of green in middle of all the dusty greys and browns.

Whoever lives in that house has probably, at some stage, taken the decision to stay instead of moving to some nicer quarters, but instead of resigning themselves to the surrounding shabbiness and neglect, they have claimed this their very own corner of the earth, and have done well at that.

Sometimes there is beauty to be found in the most unexpected places.

Thinking of Pripyat now and wishing I could go there and see it for myself.

Sunday 16 August 2009

A Mystery

While I was sunbathing today, enjoying the typical Sunday afternoon lull in outdoor activities which generally keep my neighbours rather noisy at all times of day and night, I replayed something in my head that my mother told me yesterday.

It was her birthday last week, and her brother (i.e. my uncle) called. After expressing his best wishes and going through some of the usual, polite (genuine to a certain extent) exchange of news about family members, state of gardens and houses etc., he suddenly asked her whether I or my sister had recently been in touch with his youngest daughter, our cousin.

Now, this cousin of ours is in her early forties, has three children ranging from early to late teens and early twenties, and lives in Arizona; none of us have ever been there to visit, nor has she been over here in Germany again ever since leaving with her husband, who, as part of the army, was transferred back to the US after the first Gulf War.
Our only communication with her consisted in one or two letters soon after she had left (we did not have email at that time yet) and the odd piece of news we would hear about her through my uncle and aunt.

My mother knew that neither of us had been in touch with C., and told her brother so, asking why he wanted to know.

Thing is, he told her, that she has disappeared. Vanished. Become invisible. Gone off the planet.

C.'s husband has been given to gambling and drinking for years, and caused her and the children much grief in the past. There were, apparently, times when things were looking up for them, but my uncle said that recently E. had taken once again a turn for the worse and got into serious trouble due to his gambling debts (and who knows what else).

As she, being his wife, would naturally be held accountable for his debts along with him, we now assume that they have left the state and have gone into hiding somewhere.
My uncle says she has not replied to his emails for several weeks now, and the phone is dead (probably disconnected because they did not pay their bills).
We have no clue about the family's whereabouts and hope they are going to get back on their feet, and that the silence is voluntarily from their side and nothing worse has happened to them.

There is an unexpected twist to this matter:

My uncle lives in a very old house in a small village in the area that in Germany is known as Hohenlohe. This house once belonged to a baron, and since my uncle bought it, he became interested in the history of the place and of the family that used to own it and much of the surrounding land.
The other day, there was a summer fĂȘte at the village, and my uncle had been watching the comings and goings of villagers and visitors from his garden.
Late in the evening, someone rang his doorbell.
He had not been expecting anyone and was surprised to find two men at his door, one of them maybe in his 70s, the other one a good 20 years younger.

They apologized for intruding on him like this and explained that the older man was born in this very house, had come visiting with his son for the village fĂȘte and, curious about who lived in it now, had persuaded him to go up to the house with him.

This alone is not such a strange thing to happen, I guess.
But, once my uncle invited them both in and showed them the house and the modifications and renovations he had made, and he asked the older man where he lived now, it turned out that he lives in a trailer park in Bullhead City, AZ - the last known address for my cousin and her family!

The man did not know the family personally, but he promised to try and find out about them when he is back there, and stay in touch with my uncle.

I like a good story, but this is much more. Real people, people I know and who are part of my family, are involved. Still, I feel strangely detached, maybe precisely because it is such a story-like set-up.
Will we ever hear from my cousin again, I wonder?

Tuesday 4 August 2009

We Could Be Friends

Of all the people you walk or drive past, stand or sit next to each and every day while you travel to and from work or go about your daily tasks, some of them could be your friends... if only you knew them.

Walking home from work today (you guessed it - across those often-mentioned sunlit fields again), I thought about that. And not for the first time.

While I was moving along the path towards my hometown, a woman came cycling the opposite direction.
When she was close enough, for some reason, we smiled at each other, and that was it.
The encounter, if you can even call it that, lasted for the blink of an eye.
Or the length of a smile.

There are usually several cyclists on the fields when I am out there, as well as people who walk their dogs, push a pram, go for a run or simply walk, like I do.
But only occasionally, a brief and fragile link is formed by that most universal of human facial expressions, the smile.

The woman on the bike was, I guess, maybe 10 years younger than I, with more-than-shoulder-length dark brown wavy hair, beautiful skin the colour of milky coffee, wearing a green t-shirt and jeans. Her face was pretty and made even prettier by that smile - something I am always ready to admire in other people, especially since my own smile is a rather unpretty sight.

Why did I think of her as a possible friend? Just because she was really good-looking?
I am shallow, but not that shallow; certainly only very few of my friends have been grown on a beauty farm.

The term "friend", in itself, has to be used with discernment here.
Being a sociable animal like all humans (some more, some less so), I have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances; in more modern terms, my network for socializing is quite big.

Close friends, though, are something else; here, the number goes down to a one-digit-figure.
And closest friends I have two, determining the "closest" factor by how much I trust them and the amount of personal (very personal, indeed) information I have chosen to reveal to them and they, in turn, to me.

One of these is, hardly surprising, my sister. She naturally knows a lot about me, having grown up with me and lived in the same house for 18 years.
But she does not know everything about me, nor do I know everything about her.
The other one knows some of the things about me that not even my sister knows.
Still, he does not know everything about me (nor does he need or want to).

So, how and why do we choose our friends, and they us?
Is the closeness we feel on our side of the friendship the same that they feel?
Could we be totally wrong in thinking we are close friends with someone, while they, at the same time, merely see us as "one of so many", as an acquaintance?

The woman on the bike has, most likely, forgotten about me seconds after she was past me; she is probably simply a friendly person with a ready smile.
But she could, right now, just as well be sitting at home at her computer and writing a blog entry about friends.
Yes, I like that idea!