I had a phone call last night with my friend from high school. We remarked that we had to schedule the call via an email exchange. This is an actual friend, someone that I have seen from time to time over the many decades since we parted ways from growing up on Long Island. It was nice to hear from him and spend time catching up, something that neither of us have done in a while.
I told him that it was curious how never before in human history do we have so many different communications tools at our disposal but so little actual inter-personal communication that takes place. Every day we email, text, Instagram, Tweet, and send other electronic missives to people that are virtual strangers. Many of my correspondents I have never actually met face to face.
And while I mentioned all these electronic choices, notice that I didn’t list the telephone. It seems to be obsolete. Giving someone a call out of the blue nowadays is usually seen as bringing bad news: a family illness, say. Or something else that is wrong. What happened to those days when we picked up the phone just to chat? It is more likely that when the phone rings, it is some telemarketer who is trying to sell us something. Indeed, while we were talking, my friend’s landline phone rang (naturally we were talking on our cells) with such a call.
As adults, we make “friends” who are not actually friends, develop “followers” composed of people who would not follow us out of a room, and “like” things whether we really like them or not. “Sharing” isn’t really about caring, it is just another button click on a webpage that doesn’t really take much forethought or carry with it any emotional connection. We no longer even have to come up with a good line at a bar to meet someone, thanks to the dating app Tinder. (Not that I would really know much about that, I should hasten to add.) This is progress?
Maybe it is all the fault of email, which got things moving in this direction many years ago, when we could sit in front of our computers and not have to talk to anyone to get our thoughts across. I remember when I started a magazine back in 1990 and we had hooked everyone up via email the first time. It soon became easier to write something rather than get up and walk across the office a few feet. So it began for me, and I am sure many of you also discovered this alternative to face-to-face communications back then.
Or it could be the fault of texting and instant messaging, tools that Gen Y has had almost from birth it seems.
Not that I am saying all e-communication is bad, just that it has taken some of the spontaneity and serendipity out of things.
On the other hand, certainly email and some of the other electronic tools have made it possible to reach a broad audience at a speed and scope that wasn’t ever thought possible. Within a few seconds of sending this newsletter out, many of you will have me at a disadvantage (at least those of you that actually read this). You will know what I am doing, what I am working on, what I am thinking. That is both wonderful and somewhat scary at times, depending on what you say to me when we actually do meet face to face.
And then there is this. As someone who is mostly introverted, all these tools have enabled me to communicate with more people than I have ever thought possible, as I sit here in my office, alone and in front of many screens and keyboards.
I don’t have any real words of wisdom for you. My takeaway is just to sit back for a few moments, think of the friends that you have that are actual friends, whom you have shared a meal or some important activity over the years. And pick up the phone and give them a quick call, to let them know that you are thinking about them. See if you can do it without making the arrangements in a text or an email.