Friday, September 17, 2010

Go without?

Perhaps you've heard about the small college in Pennsylvania that prohibited Facebook and all forms of social media this week. It was part of a grand experiment to see just how intertwined such technology has become within our lives.

I'm not going to decry the use of social media and the web. After all, I have this blog and I have a Facebook account. I've become quite adept at maintaining both. I don't use Twitter and don't really have a desire to learn it. I can, as witnessed by my Facebook posts, limit myself to a few characters to express what I'm thinking. Twitter just doesn't strike me as something I want to do. My lack of blog posts of late is not due to a lack of material, but rather a lack of energy in wanting to post.

I'm going to reminisce on life before social media. My friend Patt wrote in a letter last fall that she wondered if I would continue to write my long missives, which she thoroughly enjoys taking onto the screen porch with a cup of tea, now that I have a blog. I have to admit that I use this form more frequently than I do the printed word. And my printer wasn't working. I updated the software and bought new toner but I haven't tried the printer since. It's on the list of things to do.

I used to pour myself into my letters. A friend passed away 5 years ago. Before he died, he sent me a box containing all the correspondence we had maintained over the 10 years I knew him. I was flabbergasted. I still have the box in the basement. At some point, I will sit down and reread the letters. I knew him during a time of great upheaval in my life. I'm certain I will find insights I didn't see.

I had a college friend who, when we graduated and I moved away, saved all my letters for a period of 2 years. She said she loved to reread them because she missed the long conversations we used to have in the lounges after classes.

I remember, as a teenager, talking for hours on the phone with friends. It is a right of passage to monopolize the current "popular" form of communication. Of course, when I was a teen, the idea of a computer sitting on a desktop or carried within one's hand, was something out of Disney's Future World or Star Trek.

I do pause to wonder how people communicated in the 18th Century, when this country was first founded. How is it that communication between colonies when telegraphy wasn't even dreamed of, became united under a common goal when the "mass" media consisted of words printed on paper, words which were hand set, letter by letter, in rows by trained apprentices. Today, we ponder the death of the printed word, as evidenced by the demise of newspapers and brick and mortar bookstores in favor of pixels being arranged on a screen.

How did people feel watching their family members board a boat for this place called "the New World" or "the United States of America", knowing that letters may never come from them again? Unlike our ability to send an instant message to my friend, Amber, in Melbourne, Australia, my ancestors, who climbed aboard the British Bark "Sterling" in Dundee, Scotland, were leaving everything behind. A letter written in New York upon arrival three months after setting sail, might not make it back to Coupar, Fife, Scotland. There were no guarantees.

We have become dependent upon the immediacy of communication. Witness the swarm of correspondents around a news event and the demand for information when it unfolds. We were content, 40 years ago, to wait for news on the assassination of President Kennedy even though we were anxious and fearful simply because it's what we knew. A potential attempt on the Pope's life has people demanding to know the names, ages, addresses, motives, favorite beers and color of socks of the alleged perpetrators NOW, not tomorrow. I'm sure it makes gathering evidence harder when an area is swarmed by people wanting to know information that can't be released lest it jeopardize an investigation. And, in saying, "We can't release any information", people immediately assume there is something to hide.

I think, sometimes, unplugging myself for a week would be a wonderful idea. I have become more in touch with one of my brothers and a niece than I had previously because they don't write letters. I have connected with friends in ways I probably wouldn't have had we been limited to what came through on a piece of paper.

But I am old school and I do miss curling up with a cat and a cup of tea and poring through letters. I have to be one of the few people who enjoys the Christmas letters sent even if some of them come off as bragging. At least I know what you've done with your life in the past year.

So, go without? No, I don't think so. Social media sites and the web are too intricately linked to our lives now. I think it is very good idea to step back, step away, step down and reconnect to who you are as a person without the cell phone attached at the hip and the computer attached at the fingers.

Beverage: China Black Tea


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