Re: What is an acquaintance, and what is identity?

Lloyd Wood (
Thu, 23 Apr 1998 21:23:38 +0100 (BST)

On Thu, 23 Apr 1998, I Find Karma wrote:

> My question is, how easy is it for #5 to fake #1?

>From here, this does seem to be a uniquely American problem.

The easiest way to reduce the risk would be to simply include minor
white lies and discrepancies in published personal information, much
as the makers of maps include non-existent roads to track copying.
Sooner or later, this misinformation returns to you in a context where
it becomes useful information.

After all, the people who know you well never need to read your home

Or not to include information obviously. In my case, anyone emailing
me and starting their emails 'Larry,' falls into this category. (as
does anyone emailing me and starting the emails 'Lloyd', come to think
of it, although having a comparatively rare search term as part of
your name can be very useful.)

Speaking of which...

> (Dammit, as with Larry Wall, you talk to
> Ted Nelson three times and you catch his disease... :)

What, herpes zoster?

fascinating stuff.

> Barry Wellman is a PhD in sociology and in charge of the
> international network for social networking analysis. A very warm,
> astute man who I've never met.

then how do you know he's either warm or astute? That might be his
editors and proof-readers coming through. (Does Microsoft Grammar have
sliders to let you set desired warmth and astuteness of a text yet?
Probably a stupid question; I just ran it on an English-language
document emailed from Slovenia to have a helpful 'Word cannot find the
grammar file gram32.dll for Slovak' shoved in my face. Well, duh. If
it can't even figure out what language a document is written in by

> Back to the point -- and I *do* have one: Dr. Wellman believes after
> extensive research that
> | "The average person has 1500 acquaintances, with wealthier and older
> | types tending to exceed that level.

average person in the US or average person on the planet? I think the
size of the sample set matters here.

The former, I expect. Continental US, or was Alaska included as well?
North Dakota?

Hitting 1500 could be rather harder for people in African villages
without cars.

OTOH, Wellman's definition is broad enough to include everyone you
went to school with and could still recognise and place in context as
having gone to school with them. In fact,

"someone you would recognize, were you to meet in a chance encounter."

is a lousy pre-broadcast communications definition, since it includes
both Princess Died and George Michaeled. Broadcast information does
not an acquaintance make; it's a two-way thing.

Try "someone who maintains state with you" as a better definition of
an acquaintance. Uniquely-shared memories and uniquely-shared trivial
info resulting from same form the state.

This is why conversations with acquaintances start with reminders of
when you last met, what you were doing, something as trivial as a
spilled cup of coffee; it's a question of rebuilding and confirming
mutual state. You'll see requests for confirmation and
acknowledgements. You may even see a handshaking procedure. After all,
it's just networking.

> Since I'm neither Rich (though I might be working for one this summer)
> nor Classic (Rohit says I still have 19 months in me before I am
> officially "Old" with a capital O), how am I to account for the fact
> that I know 4500 people AND that I can spoof knowing a heckuva lot more
> people than that?

Consider it a sad indictment of either modern society or your ability
to count, and ask yourself how well you know those people. How many of
them would you want to be stuck in an elevator with?

> (I reached the number 4500 by taking the number of people in my email
> aliases file -- 1500 -- and conservatively multiplying it by three.

Good grief.

> Oh shoot, Amazon is changing the way they require URLs to be typed in.
> I'll have to tell y'all about that in a followup post.

arghle. Details, please.

> Elwood, you're right,

this is, of course, my favourite part of Adam's post.