Mass Mailing
May 10th, 2010

I am participating in Momalom’s Five for Ten, but I’m slow on the uptake and forgot about their designated topics.  I will be back on the wagon with an extra post tomorrow, and another on Wednesday. 

Let’s pretend you’re a friend of mine in the real world.  (Maybe you are.)  Let’s pretend that we know each other and used to keep in close contact, but due to the obligations of career and family we don’t check in as often as we used to.  And let’s pretend I wrote you the following letter (or e-mail, we should be a little realistic) last week.

Dear Friend,

Hi there.  How’ve you been?  It’s been a few weeks since we last talked and I just wanted to say hello and let you know what I’ve been up to.  Life is, for the most part, normal, and we are all doing well. 

I finally went through the stacks of journals and letters that my mom brought up last month.  It was pretty embarrassing to read so many of my thoughts from those years.  I suppose adolescence is a cross we all must bear, but after reliving it through the journal entries, I’m glad it’s behind me.  One by one I’m throwing them out, and I have to say, it feels good.

GAP’s sister and her husband came to visit recently.  We had a great time getting caught up with them.  They hadn’t seen IEP in a while and I think they had fun playing with him.  We had a fun outing to a park one afternoon.  And Saturday night we went out to dinner and had some really interesting conversation.  I really enjoy their visits.

IEP’s sign language is coming along and I’m so thankful that he picks up new signs so quickly, since his words are coming more slowly.  We’re working hard to get him to express his needs as specifically as possible, and he does pretty well.  His 18-month check-up is coming up and I’m excited to see how much he’s grown.

Not much else to report.  Please drop me a line when you can and fill me in on your most recent ongoings.  And let’s talk soon.

Love,
Gale

Okay, now let’s pretend that instead of the e-mail above, you saw the following updates to my Facebook status.

  • Ugh.  Sorting through old journals and letters this weekend.  So glad not to be in adolescence anymore. 
  • In-laws coming to visit this weekend.  It’s been ages since we’ve seen them and I can’t wait.
  • Weekend with in-laws was a blast.  Fun with IEP and a terrific grown-up dinner too.  Thanks for coming, guys.
  • IEP is learning new signs left and right these days.  I’m so proud of him.  Keeps us all sane until he starts learning more words. 

The same basic information was communicated in both formats.  But by comparison, the FB updates seem so terse and impersonal.  They are a scattershot out to a couple hundred people who may or may not be reading, and may or may not (likely not) say anything back.  On the other hand, my oh my, is FB efficient!  In less than 30 seconds I can update scores of people on my life.  I could never write all these people an individual e-mail.  I’d have carpal tunnel and sleep deprivation within a day.  I’d feel smothered by the obligation of so much correspondence.  And after a while I’d cease to enjoy the personal touch of one-on-one communication.

Nevertheless, these days I’m really struggling with the inundation of communication that never goes deeper than a text message.  Yes, my message gets to more people more quickly via FB updates or Twitter.  But to what end?  I’ve delivered a fact.  Some people will read it.  A few of them will smile and be happy to know that I’m doing well and what I’m up to.  But what does it really accomplish for me to put my life on a virtual (and password-protected) billboard if true back-and-forth interaction never occurs?  (Yes, I understand that you can comment back and forth on FB and Twitter updates, but I don’t count that as meaningful interaction.)  Just because I know that Friend A’s trip to Vegas was a success, and Friend B ate too much cheesecake for dessert, and Friend C is stuck at the office on a Saturday doesn’t mean that a relationship exists there.  They’re all just data points.

Isn’t data, though, when shared back and forth in a thoughtful and reciprocal way what constitutes a relationship in the first place?  Why should I discriminate against this type of exchange, especially if I concede that it facilitates communication with a much broader range of people than I could ever manage on my own?  And this is exactly where I start to bang my head against the wall:

Would I rather have a fewer number of friends (or “friends”) with whom I communicate regularly and in depth?  Or would I rather stay abreast of broad swaths of people from my past but never really communicate with them?  And perhaps most perplexing of all, if I choose the former, is there anyone out there who’s willing to travel the same path?  Or has everyone migrated so thoroughly over to the FB model that I no longer have a choice? 

Every time the electronic world takes a leap forward the media jumps up and down publishing stories about how technology moves more quickly than a culture’s ability to adapt to it.  I’m finding myself in one of those moments; struggling to understand in this new landscape of friendship not only what I want, but whether it’s even available to me anymore.

7 Responses to “Mass Mailing”

  1. Anne Says:

    I appreciate this perspective. I’m of the opinion that FB does not a friendship make. But I also think it’s okay to have different levels of friends in this big giant world. Acquaintances and casual friendships are important, and it’s nice knowing that your friend’s trip to Vegas was a good one. But deep friends will then get together for coffee to hear more about a trip. Will call each other. There is room for both kinds of friendship.

  2. Gale Says:

    Anne – Thanks for your comment. I agree that “FB does not a friendship make.” But does FB a friendship sustain? I think that’s the bigger question. If FB is the only contact I have with people (many of whom I’d entirely lost contact with until I got onto FB) then it’s not really a relationship. Where I struggle is with the people who used to be good friends, during high school or college, but whom I no longer see regularly because life has taken us in different directions.

    PS – Friends A, B, and C are fictional.

  3. Justine Says:

    Hi Gale – here from Momalom. This is a great post on what I’ve been thinking about lately. The depersonalization of personal relationships via these new media that ironically were designed to help us connect, yet I don’t feel as connected as I used to.

    I hear you on the carpal tunnel – I used to write long emails to my friends and now we no longer trade emails. Instead, it’s status updates, and even though I’m fully aware of what’s happening in their lives (and vice versa), I no longer feel a part of their lives when we no longer talk like we used to.

    Funny how it works that way.

  4. Bridget Says:

    I think Facebook is great. It plays a varying role in the users’ life and the users get to define what that role is. For me it’s a fluff, time-filler, but can be a useful tool for traveling advice, referrals, hand-me-downs, general updates. I don’t think of it as terribly shallow because I genuinely care about the 200 that I’m connected to on it. I may not care what they had for lunch, but I do wish them well. I can’t make fun of them for posting frivolous dribble because I’m reading their frivolous dribble… and frankly that frivolous dribble just filled my time while I waited for my oil to be changed. I like thinking, “I wonder what ever happened to so-and-so” and being able to click on their page and see their life’s evolution. Those relationships aren’t as pertinent as my day to day friendships, but they are something. It widens my tiny web in this huge world.

    I’ve also noticed that for some that I’m connected to Facebook is a life line of sorts. For instance, I’ve had a couple connections go through a divorce and I’ve noticed that they’ve needed more Facebook feedback to not feel so alone. They tended to post more statuses during the adjustment period of going from a pair to a singleton. I can only imagine I would need the same reassurance if ever I felt that kind of lonely. Some of my stay-at-home mom friends have a life line to a world of adults when a good portion of their day may be spent chasing, diapering and saying “no”. A high school classmate of mine who is mentally handicapped uses Facebook as his main social relationship. It may be 5 min of my day to IM with him when he sees me online, but to him that might be his boost of self-esteem to see how many people he can “talk” to each day. What an awesome tool. Since you control your involvement you can decide what you need to use it for. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s mostly entertainment for me, but I like seeing how it serves different purposes for all. I find it to be a positive example of the power of the internet. Adding short exchanges from more people might not be a bad thing so long as we still maintain our existing face-to-face relationships.

  5. Eva Says:

    Yes, this is something I’ve been lamenting a bit lately. Technology is great, but man, sometimes I think we’ve gone too far. I’m still resisting Twitter!

    In my life, I see different types/groups of friends. My Facebook friends are not really close friends. More like acquaintances. Or friends from a previous life. FB works just fine for keeping up on the high points: marriages, babies, etc. And honestly, I don’t invest much time in keeping my FB status current.

    My “real” friends are those I’m closest to, those I would take the time to send a longer email to (or even call!), those I see every month or two. They’re probably my Facebook friends too, but our relationship goes much deeper than that.

    Now that my mom, little brother, and little sister have joined Facebook, there is a whole question about that relationship dynamic. I have to admit I might be censoring myself a bit more. Yikes!

  6. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I quit Twitter, for the most part. I just don’t like it. I can’t really say why, even, I just don’t. Plus, I suck at it.

    FB is okay, but I tired of it fairly quickly. Maybe I’m the one with the problem?

    I think I’m just better off visiting the blogs I love.

  7. Gale Says:

    Kitch – I’m with you on Twitter. I tried. But it just doesn’t do anything for me. For better or worse, it takes me more than 140 characters to say anything worthwhile… Glad to have made your cut on the blogs you read. Always love having you here!