Spungen has written a post inspired by a comment that I made on Half Sigma about community colleges that left her with the impression that I didn’t think that I would be bothered by being surrounded by people of lower economic and social classes.

One of the constant themes of Spungen’s posts regarding money and class is that the worst parts about not having money is the inability to filter out lower-class people the way that they are automatically filtered out when you grow up in an environment with money and with the seeming impenetrability of the upper classes who are rather difficult to meet when you didn’t have the opportunity to go to the same schools that they did or work the same jobs that they do.

The second aspect of that, the impenetrability of the upper classes, is something that some people can relate to even if they come from more money than Spungen did. When a lot of us get out of college we are suddenly no longer surrounded by peers. One of my earliest jobs outside of college was in an office place where I was the only person under 35 working in the office throughout most of my tenure and I was the only unmarried person ineligible for AARP. Contrast that to my job at Falstaff in Deseret where I was surrounded by young and mostly unmarried people* and had one of the best social atmospheres I’d ever had at any job before or since.

Of course, that’s definitely not the same thing as Spungen’s complaint because I still had my college friends and roommates to lean on. I also had friends in the area dating back to high school. If I’d been more on-the-ball, I could have utilized those friends to make more. The issue for Spungen is that those opportunities were not available to her in the first place. She’d been at that point where I was only temporarily (at a couple jobs in Colosse) for most of her life. Plus, I had the first part. When I was working at Wildcat, I could go out and hang out at the warehouse if I wanted to or I could stay in. It was completely my call. But it at least gives me an idea of what she means and a place to start from when contemplating it.

In the course of the conversation that followed from Spungen’s post, Larry pointed out that the Internet changes this somewhat. Now there’s a way to meet people outside work and geographical boundaries.

I think that there’s an important distinction to make, though, between friendships that start on the Internet and move offline and those that start and end by way of the Internet. Those friendships that have always existed independent of geography rarely last as long as those friendships that you take offline. Part of it is that friendship bonds occur, in part, through common experiences. Having a common background helps, but it seems to me that friendships that occur without something concrete tend to dissipate over time once whatever bond you do have loosens. One of you gets out of the routine of visiting a particular message board or stops collecting whatever collectables you originally started talking about, your paths diverge even if your online friendship once went beyond that to a more personal level.

Where I would expect the Internet to be most useful are ones that may have started online, but eventually moved offline. That requires, among other things, geography. Once a friendship moves offline, it becomes like any other. The fact that you met via computers and cables becomes a biographical detail.

As most of you know, when I was in my late teens I joined a BBS that allowed me to talk to others through a computer. I made a lot of friends on Camelot BBS. I met a lot of those people offline at parties and whatnot. Some I became friends with independent of Camelot. Whether we became friends offline or not share no more than a little corrollation with how close we were online. It would start because we both happened to be free on the same weekend, they needed a ride somewhere, or something like that. More on that in a sec. Yet it’s those friendships that endured. It was through those people that I found my social networks. Those are the people that came to my wedding and I theirs. Those are the people that I talk about here in the present tense. Hubert, Kyle, and Tony were never my best friends on Camelot, but they’re among my best friends now.

That’s one of the downsides of the Internet compared to Camelot. Since calls were clearly marked long and shortdistance in the age before cell phones and VoIP, everybody that called was in the same town. When I was hanging out on the Internet as a single guy, I had to work to filter out-of-towners when it came to meeting girls or guys to boost my social life. In that sense, something like a BBS wouldn’t have helped Spungen back in her day because there was probably not a big BBSing scene where she’s from. Young people growing up there now can make friends all across the country, but not in ways that noticeably improve their social life.

Geography matters a great deal in these things. I remember my freshman year in college when Hubert and I were living in Lecter Hall and most of his friends were in Greenwood Hall. Despite the fact that they were his friends, they kept doing things without him. Not because they were trying to exclude him (he had not yet become nearly intolerable), but because they’d all be hanging around the dorm and they’d decide to do something spontaneously and he though he was a building away he was nonetheless excluded by default because he didn’t happen to be right there. On the other hand, I became friends with Web, Karl, John Fustle, and various other people at first because they were around a lot. They were sort of friends by osmosis. Some of those friendships endured, like Web and Hubert, but others have since become frequent acquaintances. Even with the latter people, though, the point is that we all had ample opportunity to get to know one another due primarily to proximity.

That’s one of the hardest parts for people that aren’t in proximity to people that they’re a good match for. Spungen was born with the sharp, inquisitive, and ambitious mind that was suited for the sort of nice suburb that she lives in now. She just didn’t grow up there and never had the kind of money to have the sort of proximity that she needed until much later in life. The Internet or BBSes could have helped her find those people that did live near her that shared her interests, but only to the extent that those people existed and that they had transportation to form their own network outside their school, as I did with my Camelot friends, or the opportunity to join an existing network.

Of course, even with that, she would still have the Hubert Problem. And she would have the problem that I had in junior high and at other select portions of my life, where she is stuck around people not of her own choosing that often don’t treat her (or one another) well and aren’t generally compatible even if they do. So while it would alleviate the overall problem, it certainly wouldn’t fix it even in the best of circumstances.

This all leaves me a little concerned for the future children that Clancy and I will have. We will be living in a small town. Most small towns are generally speaking undereducated and a lot of them contain a fair amount of poverty. Poverty won’t be a problem in the Truman household, but that may not matter as much as I would like. Clancy once did a brief stint in a small town in the rural northwest.

One of the things that stood out to me when I visited her there was how unusually “middle class” the town was for such a small place unconnected with any particular large places. There was a two-year college there, but it wasn’t a college town. Clancy and I have been looking closer at college towns than other places of comparable size so that, as I put it, I wouldn’t be the only person on the school board voting to teach evolution in science class. Keeping all of the above in mind, finding a town with a substantial educated population takes on more importance because of the effects that it might have on our kids.

* – Yes, I was married at the time, but I was a residency widower. So while I wasn’t in the dating market, I still needed friends moreso than the average married guy does. And they couldn’t be “couples” friends because the other part of my couple was always working.

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8 Responses to Geography As Destiny

  1. Peter says:

    I had a Hubert-type situation as a college freshman and it wasn’t a good experience. My dorm room was in a somewhat isolated location, several minutes’ walk from the area where most freshmen were housed. Not a long distance in most respects, but long enough to be isolating. It didn’t help that a few people on my floor took a quick dislike to me, yet because they were “cool” I spent much of my freshman year trying to curry favor with them. This probably wouldn’t have been the case had I been in a less isolated location.

  2. SFG says:

    nothin’ about doctresses dating geeks? c’mon trumwill…

  3. trumwill says:

    Though Hubert did most of the complaining, when we moved to Greenwood I suddenly understood what he meant. I think it didn’t bother me as much because I didn’t realize what I was missing out on. Sadly, I never much did take full advantage of living where I did, but I think things would have been a lot less pleasant if I’d stayed in the athletic dorms.

    Poke your head around Thursday. I should have it written and up by then. Hey, send me an email. My username at gmail-dot-com. I have a question for you.

  4. ? says:

    I started a post a few days ago (yet unfinished) on my experience attending a church near the well-regarded public university I attened. It was a large, “old money” church. but I didn’t think that should matter. And, during the school year. when my school friends and I constituted the “college age” sunday school class, it didn’t matter.

    But I discovered that during the summer, when the progeny of that “old money” were back home from the private colleges they attended, the new social environment became impossible to penetrate.

    I guess my point is that even proximity isn’t always enough.

  5. trumwill says:

    You’re absolutely right there, Phi.

    Really, prior to meeting Spungen, I considered being around people richer than you to be a bigger social problem than being around people poorer than you. Mostly because I went to a rich high school where I had a lot of difficulty keeping up and fitting in and when I was dating Julie I didn’t find that I was having nearly as much trouble with working class people.

    In retrospect, that analysis is complicated by a number of subsequent realizations and Spungen’s explanations and analysis have made me see that (a) my experiences are not random or indicative of the issues someone faces when actually from that area, and (b) there definitely were aspects of what she was talking about in specific stretches of my life where I very much was trapped with people taht didn’t have the restraints of “middle class” values.

  6. Peter says:

    Social class was all but irrelevant in my high school. Most students came from relatively similar socioeconomic backgrounds, with few extremes of wealth or poverty. When I got to college, however, with a far greater range of backgrounds, social class was hugely important. It made for a most disconcerting experience.

  7. thebastidge says:

    Well, as I point out over there on Spungen’s post, there is more filtering out of unsuitable friend candidates than there is striving to make friends, in any situation.

    I still don’t buy geography as destiny. I don’t really buy destiny. There’s a (perhaps not infinite) number of paths, with varying energy signatures for each. The further off the established path you wish to go, the more energy expenditure it takes. And you do close off possibilities when taking a given decision branch. You may even close off that possibility forever. But that is not the same as destiny.

  8. trumwill says:

    Mr. Bastige,

    Geography being destiny is certainly hyperbole. I don’t disagree with anything that you say, really. I just think that it’s worth noting that geography is, if not determinative, at least quite important. The energy required to overcome disadvantages still put you at a significant disadvantage when you’re competing with people that never had to expend it.

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