Saturday, April 06, 2013

21st Century Communication Breakdown

Today is my friend Jessica's birthday. Jess and I go way back, so I wanted to do something a little more substantial than the typical "Happy birthday!" on her Facebook wall. As I got ready to compose a full-fledged email to her, I remembered getting an email from her a while back that I hadn't yet responded to. So I used Gmail's handy-dandy search feature to quickly find said email, which, I discovered to my dismay, was delivered to my inbox in October. For those of you keeping score at home, that was six months ago. To make this sad story just a little bit sadder, that email from her was in response to my last email to her...which I sent on her birthday last year. So, yeah. One full year, one email sent in each direction.

I'd like to say this is an isolated lapse, an anomaly, but that just wouldn't be accurate. The truth is that I'm out of regular contact with a number of people I shouldn't be, people that, even after all this time, I number among my life's great friends. Part of this can be attributed to a natural evolution: time has passed, and now everyone is scattered to various places on the map. I'm also at an age where I find that nearly everyone around my age has children of a fairly young age, which I know leaves little time for long, leisurely phone calls or emails. I don't have that particular demand on my time, but there are others.

Everyone's busy. That's hardly a news flash. Everyone has always been busy. After our days at THS, Jess went to BGSU, where I eventually found myself as well; as she got close to graduation (I hung on for another year), she had so much going on that she and I actually had to schedule "appointments" to get together once a week or so. We made it work then, so what's different now? You know, now that everyone carries a telephone/computer in their pocket?

I have a couple of thoughts.

I got my first cell phone about thirteen years ago. I've been cell-exclusive (no land line) for probably ten years, maybe eleven. That's a pretty long time...and yet, I've never quite gotten used to making more than just a quick call on a cell. Sure, I've done it on occasion, but settling in for a lengthy conversation on one still feels alien. (This is me showing my age.) And, frankly, it's a little bit of a pain. The phone gets hot, smashed up against your face, and you have to keep an eye on the battery, and no matter how strong it says your signal is, it seems you're likely to lose service at least once.

And then there's social networking.

I used to write a lot of emails. And not short ones, either. Going back to Jess one more time, I used to write her such epic emails that, looking back, I'm at least a little shocked she never sent me a "cease and desist" order. The problem was that I had several correspondents, and I found myself essentially writing the same things over and over again. One of the reasons I started keeping this blog, in fact, was in answer to this very problem. I figured I could write my thoughts just once, and everyone could read it. The problem with that approach, of course, was that it was a one-sided conversation with no interactivity. It was all "Guess what happened last weekend!" and no "How's your job going?" or whatever.

Of course, I barely write in my blog anymore either, but in that I'm hardly alone. I feel like most personal blogs, once so scrupulously maintained and updated, have fallen by the wayside, replaced by timelines and news feeds. Now, I like Facebook, but it's devious. I see a picture of a friend's kid or cat, or a post about somewhere they're visiting or what they're eating, and maybe we comment back and forth a couple of times. Hey, I don't need to call or email...we're keeping in touch on Facebook! Right?

Well, sure, in the same way you keep in touch with the lady that cuts your hair, or the celebrity you follow on Twitter that actually tweeted you back that one time (ZOMG!). It's small talk. Don't get me wrong, it's better than nothing, but it's superficial: it should be an appetizer or dessert, if you will, rather than the meal itself.

Thus it is that in 2013, when communication across vast distances is easier than ever, the time and will to do so remains elusive. Unfortunately, although I've pinpointed what I think are a couple of factors, I don't really have any solutions, other than "suck it up and pick up the phone, jerk." Anybody have any thoughts? How do you keep in touch with your far-flung friends?

No comments: