Monday, December 16, 2013

Less With More

Long ago Christmas cards were a holiday staple.Flurries of images arrived every day, some with notes on the back, some with letters, many with just a signature and a good wish attached. Some of them had glitter glued to their fronts, some had a flocked velvet object prominently displayed, some were reproductions of Nativity paintings. All were read and put in a prominent spot and were later taken out of the house with the Christmas tree.

In those days, long distance calls were an extravagance and postal rates were low. When we wanted to get in touch, we used the US mail.

Quaint, isn't it? Now we can call anywhere in the country for one flat monthly rate. We send email, not postal mail. We have blogs and Facebook and Twitter and smartphones on which we can monitor all of these things. Our phones are always with us. We are reachable anywhere in the world.

So--what does this truly mean? We text messages to each other rather than make a phone call. We put up a status update to be read by all of our friends rather than write a series of letters to people we care about. We tweet with 140 characters (I just used 28 in the beginning of this sentence, if you count spaces--since I avoid Twitter, I don't know if I should or not) about anything that might have flitted across our minds at any given second. 

And the business world has discovered this great new accessibility to the point that many of us don't answer our phones. We screen calls or ignore them until much later, because frequently the caller is a robot, posing as a telemarketer. We read messages in our free moments, plan to respond later, and then often forget about them. There's really no impetus to respond to many of them because they're written to a world at large. What's written to everyone in fact is written for nobody. 

I am fond of people whom I never call. They're busy and I'm reluctant to break into their world. It used to be if someone picked up the phone, it meant they were in their living room. Now they could be at a party, in a meeting, having dinner at a restaurant, in line to go to the movies...This is why we text, but I have a landline. I don't have that capability.

And even if I did, odds are there would be no response until much later. 

I used to think of this blog as being a letter to friends and family, especially when I lived overseas. Now I don't expect responses here. It's become a notebook to myself. I do post notifications of new entries on Facebook, where (if I'm lucky) people will press a Like button in response.

Our conversations in real life have become different. "Oh yes. I read about that on Facebook, " we say in reply to a friend's news. Or even worse, "I keep up with you on Facebook." No need to meet for coffee when Facebook provides such an efficient alternative.

Last year I sent Christmas cards, each with a little note. They sank into the same vacuum as a Facebook message or a Tweet, with considerably more thought and financial outlay than is required by social media. It made me sad, enough so that I won't do it again. And it makes me sad that with so many ways to communicate, we do less of it than we did when there was only one.


David Hsieh said...

From someone who has saved every holiday card and correspondence I've ever received...not to mention preferring real time friends contact, this blogpost is priceless. While useful, when we limit ourselves solely to social media, we are settling for an inferior substitute. Bless you, Janet for expressing what many of us feel. I hope to see you, (perhaps over coffee?) soon.

Janet Brown said...

I love you, David Hsieh.

Jack said...

I am among those guilty. I've got lots of reasons, but I won't dignify my guilt by claiming them. Especially since I also share at least some of your wistfulness. The changing world is like earth giving way beneath my feet as I attempt to climb to level ground.

Janet Brown said...

Conversation about this soon. So much disconnection that happened so rapidly--

Gregory Berry said...

Janet, well said. I have begun writing real letters again and I don't care if others think it is quaint. Writing letters or cards in this case is an art and I think it shows that you actually care. Not that we can't send caring emails, but many people don't want to put the time or the thought into it. We are all in such a damn hurry all the time and for no real discernible reason, other than we think somehow we are having a life that way. Slowing down and taking the time to stare off into space or reflect would do many people a whole lot good. Perhaps then they might sit down and write something from the heart to that friend they are thinking of. The written snail mail letter is something one touches with one's own hand and by that very fact makes it special.

Janet Brown said...

I am a huge supporter of quaint--although you have good penmanship while mine has always been a disaster, I still think my scrawl is preferable to the generic font of an email. Hope other people feel the same way...

Katia said...

I no longer write real letters on paper, with a pen, but I still write long emails - maybe not as often as I used to, but I try. Technology is a strange thing, a fantastic tool, and I love to have it, and a curse that eats up our time and brings disconnect into our lives. Thanks for this post, Janet.

Janet Brown said...

Katia, your emails are wonderful! I'm writing one to you now.Email is
such a wonderful instrument for overseas correspondence--never gets lost in the mail.