by Ron Vitale
I remember a time in which I would receive actual letters in the mail. Now I get junk mail and some bills. The only time I receive anything of interest through the US postal service is around Christmas or my birthday and when I receive a package from Amazon for something I purchased. Long gone are the days of well-thought out and purposeful letters in which you could build a friendship over words. Time has passed and I have adapted to the modern era as well using texts, 140 characters or less and 6 second Vines to communicate. But is that good?
The Old Ways
Before I graduated college in 1992, I stumbled upon an amazing set of books entitled The Griffin & Sabine trilogy. Nick Bantock came up with an immensely popular premise: Create a book that had amazing letters and artwork inside so that the reader could pretend to partake in an amazing correspondence between Griffin and an illustrator, Sabine, as they shared letters back and forth from London and the South Pacific. The beauty of the book was in its simplicity: I could turn to a page that had an envelope on it and could pull out an actual letter with drawings and handwriting on it. The beauty of the series allowed me to enter into the secret world of these two imaginary characters.
Shortly after my graduate from college, the internet exploded and we went from long letters to long emails and wee into the morning chatroom discussions. I have always been a lover of communication in any form. My longest time for speaking on the phone is 8 hours straight and I've written monster letters and emails. Writing is my thing.
Yet in today's hyper-paced world, I wonder what we have lost. I've talked at length with many coworkers over the last few years and am surprised and amazed at hearing how dating takes places through texting. Instead of calling each other on the phone, a quick series of texts is supposed to clarify what you'd like to do for a sort of date (it seems that neither the woman or the man really know if they are dating or if they're not because that's not a cool thing to say). And worse (in my opinion), is the breakup text. I believe we have lost our priorities in how to communicate with people and, worse, we've lost intimacy.
A quick tweet or Facebook like is not the same as taking the time to show a friend you care. But in our always on world, there are too many competing sources of information and without a way to sort through these and prioritize them, people are simply choosing to block them out. We have too much communication taking place and much of it is not useful or worthy of our time.
Over time, it will be interesting to see if studies showing Facebook use does cause low self-esteem can be backed up or if there are no correlations. Whatever the effects of social media are on people, my hope that the new ways of communicating would bring us closer together have not come to be.
What I am surprised to see is a lack of true intimacy and communication being fostered through social tools. A like on Facebook really does not mean we care. A like does nothing. Someone choose to plus one your Google+ post is not the same thing as actively helping someone. And somewhere along the way there's been a schism in how people interact and help each other. Many of us will change our avatars or like a post in support of some cause or another (I've been guilty of this as well), but have we actually done anything to help?
Instead there are causes du jour and after a set amount of time, we distance ourselves from those causes and move on to the next. Support marriage equality one day and be Boston Strong the next. But what about taking the time to listen and build a relationship with a person on the other end of the digital connection? Or making a donation to a cause to help fund it? I am not saying that we should all become bleeding hearts and try to hold hands and save the world. No, that was only something I thought possible when I was young and fresh out of college.
What I am proposing is more intimate than that. Choose to connect. Set boundaries on the friends in our intimate circle and then dedicate time to them. Sound easy, right? I bet we'd be surprise with how many people are lonely and looking for companionship. A simple Tinder experiment was something that I stumbled on that shows just how many people are searching for "love," or "sex" or "intimacy." All depends on the person.
Find a Balance
In a world in which I could be tweeting with women around the world via my smartphone while I'm in bed with my wife, where does one set the boundaries? Now that I've two children, it's more difficult for my wife and me to go out on a date. Yet when we do, we often look around and can't imagine why couples don't tend to talk. Each is looking down at their own phone rather than each other. I guess it's no surprise that a 2012 study showed that the internet is better than sex for many under the age of 35. Am I only one to think that's a bit sad?
Technology is fantastic and with Google Glasses coming out in the near future it's only a matter of time until we are connected to the internet via technology implanted within us. Many sci-fi books have been foretelling this for decades now and I expect it will come to pass in my lifetime. Yet is that good for us? Or maybe a better question is: How can we adapt to using the technology in a way that will not dehumanize us?
Many sleep with mobiles next to their bed. Have sex, roll over and check Facebook or tweet. What are the rules in today's modern world? There are none. But maybe we should set boundaries with our friends, family and partners. Just because I can post a photo doesn't mean I always should. In the end, it's about finding balance and the Golden Mean.
Finding that balance will be different for each of us, but I'm a child of the old ways who has adapted to the new. I wonder if those born in the internet age will have an opportunity to enjoy life without a phone always at one's side. Or of a kiss in the rain without a selfie. Or holding someone's hand for the first time and feeling the thrill of that and wanting to tell someone and not being able to. That moment in which the beauty of life is trapped within your own head and the rightness of the world and how that moment is yours and yours alone. This is the stuff that dreams are made and of intimacies that blossom into a lifelong marriage. In the end, it's our choice and our responsibility. My point: To question, wonder and dream. Do we overshare too much and what are our real connections with people in our lives? What do you think? Please leave a comment below.