Monday, March 19, 2007


The black science-fiction writer Samuel Delany once made a distinction between two things that people do: networking and making contact. He started by suggesting that networking is getting in touch with people instrumentally--that is, for economic or material gain of some sort. Then he told a story: a friend of his was out for a run one day in New York City, and he saw an old lady get mugged. The thief knocked her over, then took off running with her purse. The guy ran over, helped the lady to her feet, and said, "Wait a minute--I'll be right back.' Then he took off after the mugger. Delany's friend is a marathon runner. Once the mugger saw someone was chasing him, he ran faster. The runner just maintained his pace and kept the thief in sight. After a while the mugger started to get a little tired, but the runner was still coming on strong. Eventually, the mugger had to stop and catch his breath. Delany's friend ran up to the guy, slapped him, snatched the old ladies' purse back, and said, 'Shame on you.' Then he turned around, ran the distance back to the old lady, and gave her back her purse. That was contact, Delany explained.

I tell the story because today I'm convinced that much of what has been called Web 2.0, including YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay, blogs like the one you are reading, and MySpace and other social networking sites, are actually more about contact than networking. People may log on searching for material gain, but it's really about electronically reaching right out to someone and saying nothing too much more complicated than 'Hello.' One begins by wanting to sell a crappy used laser pointer, or show off the way you can swing a sentence, or even get famous. But as Chris Rock once said, no matter what you might think about strip clubs, you are NOT going to get laid in the Champagne room. And you are not gonna get famous on YouTube. (Just ask Little Loca.) But if you poke around a bit, you might read or see something moving. Or you might share a moment with someone you've never met before.

A few weeks back, on the night before our daughters' birthday, Anette won an online auction for a Kaufladen, which is basically a small set of shelves, a toy cash register, and a front counter, all of which a kid can use to play General Store. The parents of the previous owner were very sweet, especially after Anette explained that we really hoped to win the auction (hint hint) because we wanted to give their Kaufladen as a birthday present to our little girl the next day. In fact, after we won, the father of the other kid drove the thing over to us personally. I met him down on the street to pay him, and I brought him a bottle of wine, because we thought it was so nice of the guy to haul it across Vienna to us. We stood there under the streetlights, smiling goofily, and he asked me, 'So how old is your daughter?' When I told him, he said, 'Oh really? That's how old our girl is!' And he smiled like he knew me.

It was just a little exchange. But that was contact.


Swerl said...

Not only true, but very well written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so eloquently.

more cowbell said...

Too true! There is this weird intimacy/anonymity thing in a lot of online communication. It's a strange dynamic, but I've found some of my most interesting conversations happen online.

pat said...

Welcome and thanks for reading, swerl.
Cowbell: yes, I meant to write more yesterday, specifically to add that some of the purely online stuff (which never leads to an actual realworld meeting) is also contact. Our online, second identity is a real, though abstracted, version of ourselves. It's like we are all magazines now....

Kristen said...

Hey, Pat! Kristen Grulke (wife of Brent, but not usually how I identify myself)

This is a weird little exchange but you commented on a good friend of mine's blog who was delighted that I actually knew you since she said her favorite punk song was "Pat Blashill" by Doctor's Mob. Imagine the guffaws all around when I told Scott Anderson, Swingle, and Collier. They suggested I give Glenn her address. They also suggested that she may never have actually heard any other music and that her mind will be blown when she hears, say, the Rolling Stones or the Beatles.
How are you, wife, and beautiful daughter? We've just done with that pesky festival and are getting down to the business of vacation planning and baseball. Did you know we have this little old kid now?
Would love to hear from you:
Send photos.

Michael said...

Things that rule:

1) San Dimas High School Football

2) Pat Blashill

Mike Dolan

pat said...

Mike D.! How the hell are you? Where the hell are you? And why can't I remember which teen movie you're biting? Was it Fast Times, Clueless or Dorkies 5? Drop me a line sometime at