Birds of a Feather

At work I am the only person who does what I do. No one else in my company has a computer with as much processing power nor as extensive access to the internet as I have. I am considered the internet nerd of the office - even more so, I suspect, than the members of the IT team. So when anyone has anything to say, any comment to make, any question to ask about anything to do with the internet they tend to end up at my desk.

These desk visitors sometimes arrive with a question, which is quickly followed by an assumed answer and already-formed opinion.

  • Desk Visitor: What's this Twitter thing I keep hearing about on the news?
  • Michelle: It's a way of sending and receiving messages from people - via the web or your phone - they're called 'tweets' - they let you keep in touch with friends and colleagues, and 'follow' people you'd like to get messages from.
  • Desk Visitor: Yeh, I think it's a dumb idea, and I don't get it.
  • Michelle: I really like Twitter - I like following people who post interesting links, tweet from events and who craft tweets with fewer than 140 characters. Do you have a Twitter account? Would you like to try it for a while? It's easier to 'get' if you use it than if I try to explain it.
  • Desk Visitor: Nah, I have better things to do with my time. I prefer to talk to people on the telephone - I just don't understand how Twitter would be any good. It's a waste of time.

*Disclaimer: this conversation is 'creative license' as generally, I'm not this helpful.

Now I really don't have an interest in converting people to Twitter, or Foursquare, or Facebook or any of the other applications I use for that matter. Invariably though, the conversations I have with people who don't use the internet for anything more than sending email is this attitude of their time being more valuable than mine; that the time I have, I waste. It is not unusal for people to tell me I have too much time on my hands.

And that, right there, is like a red flag to the bull in me.

Too much time on your hands.

I watched a documentary last night called Monster Camp. It was filmed a few years ago and followed a group of people for a year. These people shared a love of live-action role-play - specifically based around fantasy scenarios such as you'd find in the game Dungeons and Dragons or online realm of World of Warcraft. The types of games involve goblins and wizards, ghouls and fighters - rolling dice, going on quests, solving riddles and winning the day.

The dudes in Monster Camp were passionate about their activity. They spent a great deal of their time and resources to create a place and structure to play these games. I imagine they probably kept the fact that they participated in such activities on the down-low because that's the exact type of information that would make someone outside their community make a disparaging remark (or worse) about how they spend their time.

Often it's hard to see how much fun something is when you look at that thing from the outside. I find it very difficult to see the fun in amassing hundreds of teaspoons from all over the world; or collecting and decorating dolls' houses with miniature, 20th century furnishings - but that doesn't mean that's not a good use of time for a person who is passionate about that particular thing. And same goes for these geeks running around the frozen Washington countryside dressed in cut-up sheets and hitting each other with foam bats!

These role-players have formed a community around their shared passion. They continually said, throughout the documentar, how much fun it was to play and be part of that community.

Fun is fun!

When was the last time you had fun? Was it doing something that maybe not everyone you know is into? Maybe it was attending a free lecture on Biofuels at your local university; or attending a swap-meet and finding that rare sterling silver owl mustard-pot; or jumping out a plane with a bunch of your parachuting mates. You see we all clump together in different ways depending on what we're doing. We find birds of similar feathers.

Just because my feathers are different, doesn't mean the way I spend my time is any weirder or less worthy than the way you spend yours.

Tolerance is an increasingly rare and nearly always a beautiful thing - allowing someone be different in a society of increasing 'sameness' is a gift I think we could all afford to spend more towards in our day to day interactions. Listen without judgement the next time someone tells you about their passion. Let them feel safe enough to tell you about what really floats their boat without accusing them of having 'too much time on their hands'.