For the last three years or so, I have been driving to work through Valley Center, down Lilac Road and into Pala. Every day, almost without fail, when I turn onto the last leg of Lilac, I see an older man running along the road. Sometimes he is heading in my direction, and sometimes he is heading away, but he is always there. Regardless of the weather, he wears old-school running shorts (think Bill Clinton, only not so frighteningly tight and short), a loose-fitting cotton tank (the kind with the arm holes that gape almost to the waist), a baseball cap, and a pair of leather work gloves. Sometimes he is carrying the work gloves in one hand, but he is usually wearing them, whether the season is warm or cold. Sometimes, during the winter, he has a thick walrus-style mustache, but usually he is clean-shaven.
This man fascinates me. I have never spoken to him, or even made eye-contact with him as I drive past, but I suspect he is as used to seeing me every morning as I am seeing him. I want to ask him some questions, like does he get bored running the same route every day? What’s up with the leather work gloves? Does he think I drive too fast down Lilac (it is a very curvy road, but I know it so well by now that I can navigate the curves at a high rate of speed)? Has he even noticed me at all?
It may seem like a tangent, but this man gets me thinking about what we have any expectation to know about other people. For all I know this guy has a blog where he talks about his daily run, or his daily life, or conspiracy theories, or fruit salad recipes, or who knows? The real question is, how are our expectations of knowledge about other people’s lives being shaped by the new communicative strategies now at our fingertips? I suspect that I would be curious about the Lilac Road Runner regardless of the existence of the internet and its myriad possibilities for sharing information. But again, what are the limits? How much of this new ability to share and receive information about others is predicated on pre-existing cultural behaviors? In other words, did we already have this thirst for knowledge about others? I think the answer is an unequivocal yes. Gossip and information sharing about others is one of the most basic and key human adaptations for managing social relationships and ensuring group stability. But again, this raises even more questions, such as what responsibility do we have to manage social relationships with people we have never met, and probably never will? At what point will the benefits of information sharing become maladaptive (if ever)?
I have no right to know anything about the life of the Lilac Road Runner, but I am curious nonetheless. I just fear that in this rapidly evolving new culture of instant information sharing, people will begin to believe that they do have the right to know. Blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, with their capability for instant updates, have the potential to create enormous changes in our social lives and in the social landscape in general. Will this ultimately be a good or a bad thing, or a combination of both? Maybe I should ask the Lilac Road Runner what he thinks.