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The Scrivener: The P's Have It

…Making contact with possible friends via the Internet is rather like going to a cocktail party, isn't it? You wander round, striking up conversations. You might meet someone who was born in the same town or reads the same books but, in the end, you have nothing in common. You might also meet someone with whom you just "click", and a conversation develops into a friendship…

Brian Barratt muses entertainingly on Net friendships and face-to-face chats over cups of coffee.

To read more of Brian’s words, and there is no companion more entertaining, either in print or in conversation, please click on The Scrivener in the menu on his page.

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A chap I meet at the pavement café told me how his teenage son invites all his pals round for the evening. They come armed with computer gadgets, link themselves together in cyberspace, and play an electronic game. Their sole topic of conversation is the game. That isn't as anti-social as it seems. When we were kids, we did the same thing with Monopoly and Scrabble, didn't we?

Computers have changed the way we do things. Well, some of us. Remember the joyous proclamation of "The Information Highway"? True, you can find a lot of information via the Internet. You can also find plenty of opinions masquerading as facts. Any Tom, Dick or Harriet can parade their delusions and prejudices in front of millions of sometimes gullible people who don't realise that it's a good idea to check a writer's credentials. What did we used to call it? Adding a pinch of salt.

Now we have constant coercion to join some "community" or other. A simple definition of that word is "people with common interests living in a particular area". The Internet has expanded the meaning of "area" but a browse through the bulletin boards and web logs of some of these "communities" shows that they don't necessarily have useful or meaningful conversations. Trivia abounds.

A community is also "a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society". In the olden days, long before computers arrived, one of my neighbours was a young Danish chap. He seemed to enjoy my company, especially after he'd convinced himself that I was psychic.

I knew of a Danish family living in a flat just across the road, so I told him about them. "So what?" quoth he. "Because they're Danish doesn't mean we have anything in common." He eventually went to Hollywood in the hope of being discovered, not as a Dane but as a film star.

Making contact with possible friends via the Internet is rather like going to a cocktail party, isn't it? You wander round, striking up conversations. You might meet someone who was born in the same town or reads the same books but, in the end, you have nothing in common. You might also meet someone with whom you just "click", and a conversation develops into a friendship.

At one stage, I realised that many of the folk I'd befriended by e-mail, and with whom I had — and in many cases still have — a regular exchange of news and views, were P's. Their occupation or title began with the letter P.

For starters, two were completing their PhD's. One contacted me about the Indo-European roots of words used to denote divinity. We had an intensive correspondence for a long time, which led me to a thorough investigation of Sanskrit roots, too, and we still keep in touch. The other has eclectic interests including music, theology, family life, social issues, and wordplay.

There were several priests and pastors. Not all survived the test of time, but I think we added to each other's experience. One has evolved from P to D. He is now the Dean of an Anglican cathedral.

There's a Public Relations expert who used to be a journalist. Let's not forget the other retired journalist, a delightful fellow named Peter. We correspond convivially about everything under the sun. Another Peter who writes regularly is keen on cricket, architecture, family, acrostics and — did I mention it? — cricket. For a while, there was also a periodontist, good gracious me.

Perhaps P attracts P. My teenage ambition was to be a psychiatrist. For a few years, I was a preacher. I finished up as a publisher and have in recent times been described as a prat.

I don't regard these friends all over the world as a community; the P thing is just a primitive word game. They're simply individuals with whom I have something in common but who probably don't have much in common with each other. We met and still meet electronically, and for that I am very grateful for the existence of computers. But it's much more satisfying to have a face-to-face chat with a real person at the pavement café. I just noticed — pavement also starts with P.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2007

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