Internet sociology

(Originally published in The California Aggie)

Experts may say the Internet is cutting down on face-to-face human interaction, but it’s also provided us with some of the greatest forums for social observation the world has ever seen.

I’m talking about the dozens of websites that have popped up in the last five years that allow anyone to submit stories, photos, quotes and more that they’ve witnessed firsthand. It’s the Internet equivalent of people-watching, and the results are liable to make you laugh your head off or weep for future generations.

One endlessly entertaining site is Overheard in New York, devoted to – you guessed it – things people have overheard on the streets of New York City. Quotes range from the inane (Guy to scowling girlfriend: “You gotta open your mind every once in a while … not everything can be about olives”) to the perceptive (Teenage girl #1: “I’m not emo, I’m scene. There is a difference. Scene is basically emo, but you don’t cut yourself”) to the just plain awesome (Crackhead: “I got six kids, three baby mommas, and another one on the way. I must be doing something right”).

Reading through Overheard in New York, you realize just how fascinating we human beings are. Some people are dull as blocks of wood, but for the most part, even those random strangers sitting across from you on the train have something interesting to say. If you just listen, you may hear witticisms that are funnier than the biggest blockbuster comedies, or learn more about life than you ever would in a college lecture.

Then there are those sites that just make you want to bang your head against your computer screen. Anyone who’s ever worked in retail or customer service will appreciate Not Always Right, which features ridiculous, funny or unbelievably stupid exchanges employees have had with their customers. Think it’s not possible for a satellite TV customer to not know what a satellite dish is? Or for a moviegoer to try to buy a ticket without specifying the movie? Think again.

Finally, the ultimate study in human interaction comes courtesy of Passive Aggressive Notes. This is where all those indignant office memos, kids’ running-away letters and neighbor complaints (all written in note form and placed strategically by the writer for maximum finger-wagging effect) come to be mocked by millions of readers. After the 15th note warning coworkers not to touch other people’s food in the office refrigerator, you come to realize two things.

One, there is no limit to how inconsiderate we can be to each other. And two, people will do anything to avoid direct confrontation, even if it means looking like a total tool.

So take a break during your next video game or web-surfing session and check out one of the aforementioned sites. It’s not the same as socializing in the real world, but the next time you do step outside, you’ll be prepared for whatever characters you meet.

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