How not to keep in touch

I am retired. However, I am extremely busy with my writing and my study of those areas of physics that I did not pay much attention to during my active career. Right now, I am studying general relativity in all its mathematical complexity and finding it enormously challenging but fun. These things keep me very busy and so I do not find time hanging heavy on my hands and thus do not need to find ways to fill the days. I am so busy that I do not have time to read all the books or see the films that I thought I would be able to catch up on when I retired.

Many of my contemporaries have also reached retiring age and have time on their hands and some are reaching out to people they knew from long ago to get back in touch. Reconnecting with others from the distant past is not in itself a bad thing. I enjoy receiving personalized emails from people and respond to them. I do enjoy hearing from them about the events in their lives.

But my heart sinks when they ask for my cell phone number because for many Sri Lankans, ‘keeping in touch’ seems to mean passing on as text messages whatever items of interest that they find on the internet, such as jokes, memes, viral videos, and the like on random topics. It seems like they think, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that the recipients would like to receive these. The ‘fish falling from the sky’ hoax story that I wrote about is one example of the seemingly miraculous things that they find on the internet that they are gullible enough to believe are true and pass on. As far as I am concerned, this is not ‘keeping in touch’.

I am at a loss as to what to do with these unwanted messages and texts that have nothing to do with anything in our lives but are at best curiosities. It seems rude to tell people not to send things like this so I just delete them. But when I get a request from them to evaluate something, I cannot ignore it and feel obliged to respond, even if just to point them to debunking articles at sites like Snopes. All that takes time but even after I have pointed them in that direction several times, it never seeks to strike some people that they should get into the habit of doing this on their own before passing them on.

I am sure that I am not the only person who has to deal with things like this.


  1. kestrel says

    Sympathies. I did the pointing people at Snopes etc. things until finally, after getting many, many angry emails about how “unappreciative” I was about getting the ridiculous claim, I quit getting these altogether. So I can say, please endure! Keep sending out those rebuttals. I was very appreciative of the fact that my correspondents did not know how to do things other than sending me their entire mailing list, so I was able to send out the rebuttal to every single last person they had sent the original BS to. It was great. I’m almost sorry I can’t do that any more. It sure did enrage several people. 😀

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    But when I get a request from them to evaluate something, I cannot ignore it and feel obliged to respond

    Here’s the real problem, you’re too nice. I have no problem telling people to *** off.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mano, what sources are you using for GR? I only have the texts I used in grad school many years ago (including Misner, Thorne and Wheeler’s tome, which I have very mixed feelings about). My favourite is Dirac’s 1975 General Theory of Relativity, because it’s only 69 pages, and because it’s Dirac. Far from exhaustive, but it covers the major features. Of course, the notation is out of date.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Rob @3,

    Here are the books I use:

    1. Gravitation and Cosmology by Steven Weinberg
    2. The Theory of Relativity by C. Moller
    3. The Classical Theory of Fields by L. D. Landau and E. M. Lifshitz
    4. Gravitation by C. W. Misner, K. S. Thorne, and J. A. Wheeler
    5. An Introduction to Mathematical Cosmology by J. N. Islam
    6. An Introduction to the Science of Cosmology by D. J. Raine and E. G. Thomas
    7. Relativity and Cosmology by H. P. Robertson and Thomas W. Noonan
    8. An Introduction to the Theory of Relativity by W. G. Rosser

    Most of these are pretty old books. I like the first three as general texts and the others I use for specific topics that those three do not elucidate well. I agree with you that MTW is a mixed bag. Among other things, I dislike the notation they use. I was not aware of Dirac’s book. I like Dirac and will check it out. Thanks!

    I do not work my way through any single text. My approach to learning any subject, including GR, is that after I learn the basic ideas, I explore in depth specific topics that spark my interest using those sources and various published papers, to expand upon my knowledge and fill in the gaps.

    For example, right now I am studying a seeming paradox involving the Equivalence Principle and the radiation emitted by an accelerating charge. It turns out that understanding this problem in the two frames requires a close examination of what we mean by an inertial frame, how to transform electric and magnetic fields between accelerating frames, and the nature of a static homogenous gravitational field (SHGF).

    The motion of an object in an SHGF also has implications for understanding the twin paradox when we look at it in more detail, such as when one twin accelerates away from the other, then comes to rest, and then returns to the same location as the stay-at-home twin, so that we can directly compare the readings on the clocks when they are side by side at the beginning and at the end.

  5. lanir says

    It’s too long for a text message but you can always try explaining this to them. This is one of those things where the other person isn’t understanding what you want and they need some help. If you explain that you never find this sort of thing interesting and point them toward your resources to check it out, that’s a start. I’d probably say not to send any links and only send pictures they’ve made themselves. Remind them that it’s not the random internet stuff you’re interested in, it’s them. If you then give an example of something you’d like to see, perhaps “I’d much rather get the occasional message that you woke up early, saw a beatiful sunrise, and are having a great day.”

    People might still get offended by this or their eyes might glaze over and they’ll continue what they were doing anyway, but I think you’ll also be get some very favorable responses as well. This is something I learned from talking to counselors: sometimes you have to explain what you want to people because when they don’t understand that, you are their only source of information (my counselor probably said it better but that’s the gist of it).

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mano @4: Having fun with Rindler coordinates? 😉

    I’ve been meaning to get Weinberg’s book for a while. I love his writing, and his The Quantum Theory of Fields I is my go-to-first book on that subject (I’ve been meaning to get II and III as well). He covers some subtleties that other authors miss (e.g. some usually glossed-over aspects of infrared divergences).

  7. says


    There are Internet sites that mimic phone numbers and can act as a “burner” phone--you can even set up a voice mail--to receive text messages that you then happily ignore.


  8. says

    If you want a newer book, consider Sean M. Carroll’s “Spacetime and Geometry”.

    An older book that is utterly fascinating (and which was mainly way over my head, with me understanding just enough to hear the whooshing sound) is Roger Penrose’s “The Road to Reality”.

  9. John Morales says

    Yeah, well. When a retired theoretical physicist concedes they are “studying general relativity in all its mathematical complexity and finding it enormously challenging”, I consider that a bit of a reality check.

  10. Mano Singham says


    Thanks for the recommendations. I am not looking for books that are aimed at the general audience but those that go fully into mathematical derivations of the results. Do those two books meet that description?

  11. says

    Sean Carroll’s book is a textbook with the usual high ratio of equations to text. Also look him up on youtube--he does popularization, too. Here is his website (he doesn’t post all that often):

    Roger Penrose’s does have fewer equations, but it does have them (and not trivial ones either). But, for instance, he helps one understand the concepts of things like fiber bundles and dual spaces etc.. He tends to use more abstract notation, but then he is as much mathematician as physicist. He did invent twistors, after all.

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