Today a friend on facebook revealed that his nephew had trouble making friends, and appealed to his friends for solutions. What amazes me is that even kids these days are deprived of friendship. As adults, it’s perfectly understandable: being close to someone means you have to reveal your strengths and weaknesses; the former can incite unnecessary envy, whereas the latter can make you sad. A more straightforward cause is lack of time. When I was a kid, I used to dig holes with sticks on the grounds with neighbor’s children. This was a long, painstaking process that often took half a day. Other than simple mechanical projects, we also bantered and teased each other, though of an innocent kind. We used to go to bookstores, as a conversation starter. Back then we lived under extreme academic duress, which made it even more compelling to lavish what little childhood time we had. But kids in the US, especially those situated in the middle of nowhere land like Nebraska, are at a loss of what to do. They probably sit in front of computers when not at school. Computers are better teachers than kids. At school, the main purpose of being educated has been well defined since day one. There is very little contact sports, because there are few students to begin with, and high educational standards dictate that classrooms are relatively uncrowded. That could be a bad thing. Only when you have to rub against fellow human beings do you truly feel the need to engage physically with them, which is the basis of life-long friendship.
This brings up the discussion about startup culture. I think the biggest lure there is not necessarily the promise of fortune, but the revisitation of human bonding process. I would say a startup modeled after a typical Chinese middle school classroom, of 50 or 60 in size, decrepit desks and chairs, and some over-arching spiritual leader, can be even more soul-enriching. What about the role of meetups? I am soon going to join one on robotics. It’s funny because the very purpose of robot to me is to liberate humans from the need of fellow companionship. Yet I see the meetup more as a pretext for social interaction than career ambitions.