I have written an essay for The Side View (TSV). You can read my full essay here. To give you a flavor of the essay, I am including two excerpts from it here. The first passage is about how our desire for information (about someone) has to be distinguished from connecting (to that someone).
… in our desire to reconnect, we overestimate the role of impersonal knowledge. A contrived example can clarify this point. Imagine that after having no contact with my brother for ten years, I hire a private investigator to acquire as much information about him as possible. Would the information help us reconnect? At best, the information would give me a practical advantage in initiating contact, perhaps allowing me to find my way into my brother’s life in a way that is convenient to him. At worst, the information could be used to subject my brother to some type of manipulative illusion, perhaps allowing me to “bump into him accidentally.” Regardless of how it is used, the information provided by the investigator, in and of itself—no matter how detailed and accurate—cannot reconnect me and my brother.
The second passage is about how we cope with lack of connection by making up appearances of connection. We lose contact with each other, losing true intimacy, and so we might begin to rely on signs of connection and signs of intimacy.
Let us turn to another example which is familiar to most of us. How should we think about the experience of being called, by name, by a barista at Starbucks? The barista is, indeed, calling my name, holding a cup with my name on it. But, in an important sense, the call isn’t real. It is a pretend play, a copy of something that is absent in the interaction. The interaction is designed to feel like, to remind us of, being at a café where the staff knows you. We could also imagine shaking hands with a public “intellectual” after one of their sold-out events. I stand in line with a hundred other people to meet the great thinker. By the time I reach him, he will even ask my name and might repeat it after me. Doesn’t this ritual resemble our Starbucks scenario?