The Social Shuffle

This is actually a bit of a mess, but I've written so little lately and posted even less here that I thought I'd share it just to show that I have been working. As always, I welcome comments and feedback, though I don't really feel like there's much point in working on this any further [there's really not much salvageable here]. Maybe I'll feel different in the next couple days, but I've already spent most of the past twelve hours on it, and boy, do I wish is showed.

"The Social Shuffle"
or: "This had a much better title it wound up not deserving."

The author would like to preface this article by reminding his readers that he actually has no idea how Apple’s iPod Shuffle technology works, and his assumptions on the programs involved are merely conjecture. He is more than willing to believe that it’s far more or less complicated than he’s made it out to be, and for the purposes of this article, doesn’t care.

It is unlikely that there is a greater challenge in the post-college but pre-real life time period [known to last as short as three months or as long as nine years, depending on the state of the individual’s financial aid debt, standing relationship with family figures, pursuance of higher education, and general area of occupation] than finding a healthy social routine. Without the classes and the extra-circulars that propagate around a scholastic setting, one may find it difficult to meet like-minded thinkers and those with common interests. Those who have found employment, whether temporary or long term, will often deem their co-workers an imperfect fit for these needs; entry level jobs attract a wide-range of people from all walks, and the universal shared life-experience combined with the ability to ingest tequila slammers during daily happy hours do not necessarily lasting relationships make.

So what is a lonely twenty-something to do when faced with such inhospitable conditions for finding companionship? Solutions are available, but most are far from ideal and none can be applied across the board to all individual situations. Some quarter-lifers may be proficient in public socialization, and possess enough of the attribute known as “charm” that they will find company in any crowd, while lesser peers will find companionship by benefit of being sought out by these same charismatic personalities. Others may have carry-over friends or acquaintances from college or high school, and will utilize these connections to bring new people into their lives, often permanently. There are also a slew of often looked down upon options, like online personals, church mixers, and the ever dreadful “friend hook-up,” which will at the very least provide the necessary romantic partnership, and with any luck said new partner will bring enough to the table socially to cover for any existing deficiencies.

Even taking all these things into consideration, and assuming those with such prospects available take full advantage of them and find success, there is still a small percentage of quarter-lifers left out. Many wrongly assume these oddments are just that – odd; social lepers who couldn’t string together a “hello, my name is blank,” if the first four words were already placed on a name tag for them, who bristle at the thought of eye contact and choke when faced with simple questions such as “Why are you staring?” This is all, of course, categorically unfair, and the supposed worst of these non-social people [not “anti-social,” an unnecessary and often crippling negative title] could only be accused of a natural shyness, a trait which is largely acknowledged today to be an attractive quality in both males and females, often considered endearing, if not “cute,” in a strictly non-pejorative sense. These quarter-lifers are no less interesting than their peers, and are only guilty of having just, thus far, been unlucky enough to find no one intuitive enough to notice their personal potential and put forth the effort to bring them out of their shell. The selfishness of others should not be a slight against the shy, but alas, this is just another too-soon-learned inequity of adulthood.

Timidity is only a minority of this minority, though much like their shy counterparts, their peers who inhabit it do so for equally respectable reasons. Many are especially bold, pursuing new lives or niche jobs that require leaving their established social comfort zones. Others are exceptionally driven, to perhaps the point of distraction, and upon achieving certain goals have decided to return to social life only to find their time away has alienated them from the masses. Both should be seen as ambitious dreamers, who have chosen to strike out on their own and in doing so have lost [or at least distanced themselves] from friends and family, becoming the prodigal figures “brought into a world they never made.” Adjustment is difficult; and without the qualities previously mentioned here, they will find both romantic and platonic relationships difficult to attain.

Naturally, our shared human condition, with its pervasive need to find safety in the interpersonal bonds of companionship, demands us to solve this problem, even if we are not one of the few it afflicts. Indeed, too much time has already been lost in the treatment of the majority’s social diseases, and as is often the case, this has caused the remainder’s ills to fester and swell. It is now our calling, nay our responsibility, to put forward thought to solving the suffering minority’s query and find solutions, starting with theoretical ones.

Like all great thinkers, we first turn to what is present at hand. Technological wonders abound in this world, and the same ingenuity which brings us convenience in our ever day lives may present us with the answers we are seeking. Take Apple’s iPod MP3 player, truly a marvel in entertainment, both small in size and light in weight, but within it we can store gigabytes upon gigabytes of information; images, movies, audio books, and most famously, music. And the options provided for listening to said music are just as great in number. With a press of a button, we can listen to the same song numerous times, play albums of a single artist in the order of their release, create customized playlists, or even have the device randomly select songs from our collection to play for us. This last feature even predates the device itself, as an option on home, CD-based entertainment systems where it was first called “Shuffle.”

One needs only to regularly play songs on “Shuffle” to recognize a pattern that the iPod seems to rely on while playing these songs. Though randomized, an individual listener may notice the program’s proclivity to play certain songs the listener is especially fond of, and has frequently played on the device in the past. This is even more apparent when a new song or album is introduced to the playlist – the MP3 player will continue to favor selected tracks which are popular with the listener, but will gradually but randomly seed songs into the shuffled playlist. This allows the listener to acclimate themselves to new music while never straying too far from their comfort zone. As time progresses, unfavorable songs will be weeded out manually by the user, while new favorites will come to reflect that status by the program regularly introducing them into future shuffled playlists.

A similar process might be applied. Say for instance we sit one of our lonely quarter-lifers in a single room alone. We gather the few personal connections they have available [if any] and send one into the room at a time, alternating them tag-team style every say, fifteen-to-twenty-minutes. After several hours of this [stretched over a period of days, of course, so as not to overwhelm the subject] we will begin to introduce new people, some selected via the subject’s known interests, others with seemingly no similarities whatsoever. They will be seeded in, one at a time, among those our twenty-something feels comfortable with, all the while allowing the subject to make requests to remove certain new individuals, while simultaneously continuing to introduce new people into the rotation. The older support system, meanwhile, will slowly be taken out until only the new [now new no longer] shuffled individuals remain.

This system is a little too ideal, however. Though no one would object to rounding up an entire minority of the population for its own good and benefit, the amount of man hours needed would be quite sizable. Since the lonely few have yet to disrupt the rest of the world [sans the odd suicide], said time would largely have to come from volunteers, and only a certain kind of benevolent person would be likely to get involved. This would remove certainly personality types, and perhaps even certain interests, from the randomized pool, leaving us with yet another minority within a minority, now made up of those who do not respond favorably to certain charitable members of our society. The same problem would present itself if we only included in the shuffle those within our non-social minority, as while may be likely that the non-social could find many friends and loves within the confines of their non-social peers, only intermixing them means those who may find their own social attributes unfavorable, or even detestable [admittedly, the likelihood of this is kind of self-loathing in someone supporting themselves on their own and with no friends is, logically, low].

These will not do. Any solution which can’t be unilaterally applied is no sort of solution at all, as shown by the existing separation of the social and non-social and how the latter have been so far completely neglected. This being the case, one wonders if the larger idea of socialization should be broadened to all twenty-somethings, with our theoretical “room” expanded to some larger ecosystem, and our randomized selections, or possible friends, not hand selected by any biased person or program, but rather truly shuffled as if through some naturally chance-based causality. And in order to simulate hold-over, the subject would have to remain proactive, and seek out those whose company he wishes to revisit out of preference, in person, perhaps over the phone or internet if said preferences were not physically available – which would, of course, expand our already large ecosystem even further.

Still, it would be foolish to give up on the idea entirely, as the more socialization is neglected in these lonesome years, the less likely the symptoms are to improve over time, and the lonely twenty-something may be doomed yet to become the lonely thirty-something and beyond. But much as forward-thinking has evolved enough to bring us an intuitive machine such as the iPod MP3 player, and allowed for continued improvement upon its design, it is ever more likely that similar innovation might minds to the possibility that somewhere out there those non-social, labeled with hurtful terms such as outcasts, introverts, or “the socially retarded,” might yet find acceptance, and more importantly, friends. For now however, they must make do, and we can only hope that we, who are privileged enough to not know their uneasy pain, their ever more confining loneliness, and the unbearable solitary hardship they face, can offer them the slightest solace with our assurance that this problem will no longer goes unnoticed and they, however isolated they may feel, will not be lost in the shuffle.

2 comments :: The Social Shuffle

  1. I identify with this. Although through sheer workplace repetition, "Hi, my name is blank" has become slightly easier. The real problem is what to say next.

  2. Thanks Julia. You finding something in this to identify with makes this mess worthwhile.