There are lots of different ways in which we can interact with our fellow human beings. For example, I am an introvert.  Each of the psychological tests I’ve taken over the Internet as I’ve sat in my office alone with my computer tell me that, yet my wife finds it hard to believe because I’ve made speeches before hundreds of people while seeming to enjoy it. 

To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what an introvert is.  All I can say is that when I go to a party, I would rather sit invisibly at a corner and listen to an interesting conversation within a small circle of people than to glad-hand my way from one end of the room to the other and talk for five minutes to everybody.

These are just examples of extremes, and I am not saying one is better than the other.  We each seek to connect ourselves to humanity in our own way.  My way to be happy is to watch and analyze human behavior.  It fascinates me.  I could watch people for a million years and never figure them out.

I started college in June of 1980 taking courses in Analytic Geometry and Freshman Composition.  There were about 20 people in my Composition class, two of whom had gone to high school together in Roff, Oklahoma.  They were a girl and a boy.  She was a little blonde thing and he was too.  They were both about the same height, but you could tell them apart because he had a mustache.  They were a couple.  This was abundantly clear since they were all over each other all the time engaging in what are called PDAs, public displays of affection.  Then one day they came in opposite corners of the room.  A bit later the girl began sitting with other young men to whom she seemed to be much attached. 

Then the term ended and I never learned how that all turned out, but I still remember the pain in her first boyfriend’s eyes as he sat in his corner of the room.

A lot has changed in the last 26 years, but I’ve continued to be a people watcher, and as odd as it seems, being a university professor can be an ideal position from which to observe the human condition.  Students believe themselves to be invisible and professors to be deaf.

Sometime back I had couple in class.  They were not nearly as demonstrative in their affection as the couple I’d seen 20 years before.  They sat by each other everyday, but they never exhibited PDAs, certainly nothing like the earlier couple who would have benefited by being hosed down.  This went on for about 13 weeks.  Then one day the girl sat in the next row up. Over the next couple of weeks, the distance between them increased until the girl was on the other side of the room. 

I will never know what passed between them—if anything—but I do know I saw the same look in her eyes as I’d seen in the boy’s more than twenty years before.  Some things never change, and pain is one of them.

On campus, I have ample opportunity to observe our young people seeking out human contact.  It is natural for us to seek out friends with similar interests.  These days technology makes it easy for us to become atomized.  For example, the MP3 player is a fantastic device so tiny you can take it with you anywhere.  You can listen to your own music anytime, all the time, without disturbing anybody and without ever having to come to a consensus on what you will listen to.  You never have to hear anything you don’t want to hear, and you never have to meet anyone new. 

I wonder why we do this? Is it to make an end-run around the pain I mentioned earlier? To make a connection with another person is to risk pain.  Maybe music is just part of the attraction of these devices.  Maybe their function in isolating us from the rest of humanity and protecting us from pain is the rest of it.

Yet the pull of connection to other humans is great.  While MP3 players are everywhere on campus, cell phones seem to be even more common.  As annoying as I find it to see students walking across campus talking into the phones pressed to their ears—and I DO find it annoying—I find it hopeful they are still seeking the connection.

They also connect to each other through e-mail, Instant Messaging, and message boards.  These provide a measure of safety as well.  You can delete your e-mail, you can block Instant Messages, and you can ignore message boards.  You can avoid real pain and avoid real connection.

Maybe there will be another type of human in addition to the introvert and the extravert: the Technovert.  We shall see.