August 11, 2017 at 11:26am

Where Are You From?

When I went to college, it was the first time I had been out of my home town on my own for any extended period of time. There was only one other person there from my high school. So that meant there were about 3,000 strangers on the campus, which was to become my new home for four years. I think we had a one week orientation period to get used to our new environment.

We all ate in the dining halls located in the women’s dorms, family style, maybe eight people at a table, mostly boy-girl-boy-girl. The first thing I learned to say was, Where are you from?” The answers were from all over, even a lot of foreign countries,” as we called them in those days. It was a good ice breaker. Soon we were having discussions and getting to know each other. I think we had name tags at that stage, so we didn’t have to ask the other obvious ice breaker, What’s your name?”

I had already been an amateur radio operator for several years at that point, so this felt pretty natural to me. In ham radio, the first exchange of information in making contact with a new station for the first time was to give one’s first name and one’s QTH, which means location, which meant city and state in most cases. This routine followed me to grad school, my next meeting ground for lots of people from all over. Once I had a regular job, we were all from the same town, so the ice breaker became, What’s your job?”

Then the Internet became the place to meet a lot of new people, from all over. Are we still defined by where we live? Apparently not. Microblog has a Discover page, which links to eighteen users and suggests that a new person follow some of them to get started. Everyone has an About page, or more like an About blurb, because they’re mostly pretty short. This is how people introduce themselves, presumably presenting what they’d like others to know about them, for starters. I looked at all eighteen and found two that gave their geographic location: one in Saint Paul, MN and one in Austin. That’s it. More than 88% made no mention of where they are from.

100% of them gave the URL to their blog or other website, fairly often they listed nothing else in their About blurb. This makes some sense. Microblog was started to provide a new platform for blogging and to encourage blogging. So where are we from? Our blogs. Who are we? Bloggers.

For the sixteen who didn’t disclose their geographic location on their Microblog About page, I clicked on the link to their blog or website. On the landing page where I arrived, there was usually a link to another About page. I looked at their landing page and then on their about page. Four of the sixteen gave their geographic location on one or both of those pages, the rest did not. So we’re down to 2/3 of the original eighteen on the Discover page who were still in mystery locations, as far as we could tell.

I did not continue the experiment, hunting through their website to find a geographic location. I did happen to notice that with one of them, it would take only one more click to learn their location.

Does this all stem from a desire to maintain some privacy? We know we’re being tracked all the time on the Internet. Is this a way of hiding out, just a bit? Maybe we don’t like being pinned down. I usually have Location turned off on my phone and this pisses off Google and some other websites, like Amazon. I get nudged to please turn on my location. Usually I don’t.

Or has geographic location become irrelevant? Especially in the US, it seems like every city has all the same name brand stores in all the malls. We can watch the same TV networks in all of them. And so on. Maybe it doesn’t matter where we’re from any more, as every place is same same but different, as they say in Thailand.

Like Bob Dylan, I grew up in the Midwest, but I’ve been living in California for the last fifty years, currently in Salinas. Soon we will be moving back to my home town for my eventual retirement. Notice I didn’t say where in the Midwest? Ha ha!


Discussion of this posting on Microblog
Michael H. Gerloff @kulturnation
@Ron Since I heard a discussion (backed with scientific studies and statements of affected people) about the question’s traumatic effects on people who are asked I knew why I never liked this where are you from” ice breaker. (Ron, please do not read this as a rude reply - just crossed my mind when I read your artcle.)
Ron Chester @Ron
@kulturnation It would be interesting to see one of those studies. Should I add a trigger warning at the top of my article? No worries, no offense taken! I can imagine that the Q could be offensive, if asked with no real interest in the answer, or as a put down.
Michael H. Gerloff @kulturnation
@Ron The studies were made in Germany. One problem is that (here) it is mostly asked to people with migration background (or having a foreign” name or just looking like foreigners). These people then are put in boxes, and it’s not a conversation that starts but something like a script.
Ron Chester @Ron
@kulturnation I see, so not a Q asked out of curiosity about the A. More like a statement, You’re from a bad’ place,” disguised as a Q, which makes the immigrant feel bad, of course. Rude intolerance, hate under the surface. Like screaming, How dare you be so different!” 1
Michael H. Gerloff @kulturnation
@Ron No, often people ask out of curiosity”, but the plot” of the conversation often runs like: My name is Olsson” - Where are you from” - Washington” - No, I mean yr name sounds Skandinavic” - My grandparents came from Sweden” - Ah, Sweden, I’d love to visit the country” (1/3)
@Ron (2/3) and 15 min later the people have flushed Mr Olsson with all their knowledge” of Sweden, but don’t know anything about him. Or when it runs a slight different plot line, they know everything about him and his family and haven’t talked about themselves for a minute.
@Ron (3/3) This is the experience of many people in the studies. They feel objectified with very negative consequences; and so many would prefer to be asked what they are doing. Or even given the chance to ask.
Ron Chester @Ron
@kulturnation Hmmmmm. Like when folks sit around chatting, but no one is listening, everyone just waiting for their turn to talk? A willingness to listen/understand is a prerequisite for real live communication. Maybe What kind of work do you do?” would be a good ice breaker.

© 2017 by Ron Chester - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  1. Amazing serendipitous irony:
    On Microblog in the Home stream, the very next posting after my one about hate under the surface” was one by Khurt Williams
    Khurt Williams @khurt
    No hate

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