I know it's ironic to be writing on a computer and using the interwebs to post ideas about how I want to temper my time on computers and the Interwebs, but that is sort of the crux of the problem I want to talk about.
Isn't it strange that this thing piped into your house, this thing that gives you intimate and controlled access to the daily banalities of people all over the world, is the same thing that can limit your access to people and to the banalities of your own life?
The very thing you use to show the world and your friends pictures of the ham you just accidentally set on fire, is the thing that is possibly (and for me, probably) preventing you from picking up the phone and calling just one friend to talk about your day.
We are so connected to each other these days, and yet I am struggling with an almost staggering disconnect. I interact with my friends everyday. I interact with my far-away family everyday. I laugh with them and at them and because of them. They laugh with me and at me and because of me.
And yet, everyday I miss my friends. I miss… contact. We may be laughing with and at and because of each other, but we're doing it alone. We are not laughing together. I cannot hear them laughing. They cannot hear me. That makes me sit back and go whoa. It gives me a heavy feeling in my chest.
When you have Facebook and Twitter and email you don't really have much of a reason to pick up the phone and call someone just to see how they're doing – you already know how they're doing. Or, I guess, you know how they want you to think they're doing. Why pick up a pen and paper and buy a stamp and walk to the mailbox and mail a letter and wait a week to get a response when you can just send a text or an email?
Why? Because calling someone allows you to hear their voice. It gives you a few moments to wade through your emotions together. You can hear life happening in the background, too. When your friend says she's doing great and planning a trip to Disney World and eating the best brownie ever, you can hear that quiver in her voice and know that something isn't right. Or when she says that everything is terrible, you can sing her a silly little song or tell a dirty joke and then hear the change in her voice by the end of the conversation.
Think about it: deciphering your best friend's handwriting on back-to-back pages of smeared ink is a lost art. These days, do you even know what your friends' handwriting looks like? It feels like a secret to me, an intimacy, when I see the handwriting of a friend. It's a peek into their personality, their day-to-day, but also their psyche and their emotions.
I know that years ago when people wrote letters to each other they didn't always use smeary ink and messy handwriting. They typed up neat pages and carefully folded those pages into neat envelopes. But I still maintain this is so much different than email. The lack of immediacy is an obvious difference, but there's so much more than that. There's the time set aside to focus on one person. There's the physical action of writing and editing and rewriting. There's focus on thought and intent. There's the act of buying stamps. And these people (us, all those years ago) were not less busy than we are now. Arguably, they (we!) were more busy than we are now, what with the lack of technology making our lives easier (har). If you wanted to visit with your friends, you wrote a letter. Simple as that. You could also spend an hour on the phone, but you paid for it at the end of the month when those long-distance charges appeared. So you wrote. You poured out your heart and soul and secrets and wishes and day-to-day activities. You told jokes and caught up with family members. You pined with your secret love. You learned how to compose a sentence that broke all the rules but solved all your friend's problems.
Is it archaic to miss a kind of intimacy that our current world has rendered obsolete? I'm sure plenty of people think this sort of pining is ridiculous. Why would you torture yourself waiting for a response from your friend when you can just email them a letter and possibly hear back by the end of the hour?
I guess I feel like letters don't have to be a lost art. They don't have to be obsolete. And sure, there's a place for email and texting and Facebook. It is wonderful to have a community of hundreds of people to chat with throughout the day. It's wonderful to have instant access to people when something crazy is happening or you need help or have a question about who built the first spaceship. Plus, business moves so much faster (even the slog of publishing) when you can email someone and get a (sometimes) quick response. So please don't misunderstand me – I am a big fan of technology and email and Facebook and all of that.
But when it comes to everyday interactions, this kind of instant feedback can be so dangerous, don't you think? These interactions shouldn't replace human contact, you know? I feel like before there was Facebook there were more dinner parties and more phone calls and more letters and cards. There was, ironically, so much more to talk about when you got together with your friends.
So while my world has expanded into a supernova of friends and interactions, I can feel it sucking in on itself, creating that inevitable black hole that comes from an explosion of this magnitude. I see you guys everyday, and yet I miss you more than ever. I am surrounded by friends, but have never felt more isolated.
I miss ink-stained fingers and a mad dash for funny stamps and breathlessly opening the mailbox to find an envelope with familiar handwriting that grabs at you like a hug from far away.
I miss catching up because I don't already know you had fried chicken for lunch.
I miss you. All of you.
Who wants to be my pen pal?