There are (hay) 6.93 billion people on the planet, how many of them can you say you have known? Does your facebook friend count break 300? 1,000? Combine it with your old myspace or friendster and discount the duplicates. Your high school yearbook. Consider all the names you heard on the announcements in high school that might still pop up in your memory from time to time. Whether you live in the city or country, but especially if you work in retail, food or any other customer service industry, consider for a moment the number of beings you have personally interacted with. Even on vacation in distant lands at each stage of your life cycle (not to be confused with light cycle). What could that number possibly be? 10,000? Ridiculously low. 50,000? 1,000,000? 80,000,000? How many have you met, conversed briefly, irrevocably altered the course of their life in some minuscule way, or simply seen in a crowd? How many other humans in your lifetime will you come into contact with?
And yet, if we were to include all the imaginary, supposed, or fictional people whom we are aware of, that number would inflate, mayhaps even double (?!)
Imaginary peoples are not just for children and paranoiacs, though these are the clearest examples of actual interaction and acting for the benefit of invisible men. Actors and writers create imaginary people every day, and in fact you may know more about the personal habits, secret origins, likes and dislikes, relationship histories, etc. of these figures than many of your close-ish acquaintances, and certainly more than those casual encounters (not to be confused with the until-recently seedy portion of craigslist). We actually feel deep emotion for these imaginary characters.
People fantasize about their perfect mate(s), though there are millions of capable, willing, and virile possibilities that may be foolishly passed over for not being this ridiculously idealized imaginary one(s). How about the idealized person you ascribe to an actual person, only to realize later that they do not measure up. Do the two different versions count as two different beings in the compartmentalized recesses of your memory?
I cannot even count the number of people I have met in dreamtime who I never have or will meet in pathetic waking life. Beautiful women, disturbing monstrosities, and heroic allies, all of them distinct and memorable, all of them thoroughly nonexistent.
Children believe in Santa Claus, leaving food for him and awaiting with fervent glee his annual arrival, something that parents actively encourage, though fully aware of the con.
And Ockham’s Razor be damned, all things being equal, I much prefer to live in a world with Bigfoot than without.
And what about the impersonal people we are aware definitely exist, but may as well be invisible for all we know? The smoke-and-mirror show that surrounds us when we hear unknown neighbors arguing, a man clear his throat down on the street, the familiar jingle of keys in the door as we inquisitively attempt to guess their owner? You know about the people in your town, your state, your nation, your world. Many of them appear on television, senators, comedians, lawyers, used car salesmen, news anchors, local characters. This is but a fraction of the inhabitants of the vast heavenly sphere we call our home. Our ‘neighbors’ include the Koreans, the Malaysians, the Irish, the Tasmanians, and sometimes even the Dutch. But aside from those very few you may have run into, unless you have been to all of those places they are strangers to you, no different than the fictional inhabitants of Oz, Cimmeria, Middle Earth, or Ooo, any of which you may know more about. We take it on faith that the Japanese exist, much the same way that a child takes it on faith that Santa exists, or the Christian supposes Jesus. Who is to say who is right and who is wrong?
And HOW real are some of these people anyway? I refer, of course, to Matthew Lesko. I myself have constructed quite a mix of real and fictional personal history, intermingled on the internet for any curious onlooker to attempt parsing.
And with this newfangled inner nets (not to be confused with inner tubes), faceless masses no longer simply ride the same bus as you, they watch the same videos you do, violently argue with you, like your comments, have mutual friends, check in at the same places, and tweet about the same revolutions. Surely they must all exist, this is no Truman Show lie. But the anonymity that protects them also alienates them not only from physical human connection with you, but also in some small way from the conceptual acceptance in your mind that they are indeed physical beings. Can there be any doubt? But what if you are talking to a bot or mailer-dæmon? Who has the time to administer a Turing test to each and every digital invisible person you come across? Also, its socially gauche!
As I said, we do things for the benefit of these invisible peeps. We knock on a bathroom door for the potential invisible person that may be inside, lest we find ourselves in a temporary mildly embarrassing situation (not everyone does this, those of us on the receiving end sometime disastrously discover). Writers not only create fictional people, (and sometimes multiple continuities of them), but write for an audience of imaginary people they may never see, who are enjoying the exploits of their fictional heroes, often without ever knowing or acknowledging the actual writer’s name or efforts.
I wonder (aloud in case it matters) if anyone will ever read this blog post. Or if when I look back at the number of page views, if perhaps they all aren’t just myself looking back at them wondering.
With so many people on the planet and growing, how can our overwhelmed and overworked minds manage to keep track of so many non-persons? Why do we do it? Would you bother to stop if you found out how?