You Can’t Upgrade Your Relationships To Fiber Optic: Evaluating Your Bandwidth

I think one of the most important things digital technology has reminded us about human interactions is not through large language models or generative AI, not through the collection of knowledge or sharing of opinions.

I think it’s something a lot more fundamental than that.

It’s bandwidth.

The idea of "not having enough bandwidth" is something that we seem to just get. If the amount of demand is greater than the amount that can be handled, Bad Things Happen. Video calls get dropped. Streamed music gets choppy. Web pages are slow to load.

It’s something I really have to pay attention to, both with my day job or when I’m running an online D&D game. I’ll pause downloads in the background, shut off Steam, even close extra messaging apps to make sure things run smoothly. I learned that the hard way one time when a game on Steam decided that updating would be an excellent idea at exactly the wrong time.

That understanding of bandwidth applies pretty straightforwardly to human interactions. {1}

When you take up a new hobby, start a new game, put away your clothes, make a new friend, revel in self-care, do anything, that is taking up some of your bandwidth. And the amount of bandwidth everyone has is not equal, and may change over time. My chronic pain sometimes severely limits my bandwidth, for example. {2}

Then there are those demands and requests of your bandwidth that are already being made of you. However you’re employed. Pets. Children. Significant others. Friends. Socialization. Clubs. Forums. Hobbies. Self-care and maintenance. Some of them cannot be ignored (you’ve got to eat sometime), and some, whether because of culture (making dinner for the family) or contract (showing up at your place of employment) feel like they can’t be ignored. {3}

So as I result, just like when I am running a session, I have to be mindful of my bandwidth.

Am I spending it where, and with whom, I want to? Am I spending my bandwidth waiting for a response from someone, and not taking care of myself? Am I devoting too little bandwidth to the people already in my life, and is there enough bandwidth being given in return? Am I dedicating enough bandwidth to taking care of myself? Are the demands and requests being made of my bandwidth things that really are mine to take care of?

All of that is ever-changing. A friend may suddenly need more emotional support because of family issues. A loved one may suddenly take ill. Your role at work suddenly encompasses ALL of the "other duties as required" part of the job description during crunch time. You meet a new potential friend, or more. You take time for yourself. You discover a new interest.

If you’re running close to using your total bandwidth, those things — like that unexpected game update — can create a whole lot of havoc.

Except when we’re talking about human interactions, other people, there’s more at stake than a video buffering when your bandwidth is exceeded.

{1} In polyamorous circles, this has been called "polysaturation," but I think that that’s narrowing the focus too much to romantic relationships.
{2} I specifically mean uncontrollable things that alter your total bandwidth, such as a chronic condition or a disability. Things that would be covered by spoon/match/dice theory.
{3} They can, though it may be difficult or unwise; they just seem like they can’t.

Featured Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

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