Friday, May 20, 2011

Why the Personal Still Matters

SLAP! Happy Friday!

Recently a friend emailed me with some sad news and as part of this email he remarked that he wished we communicated more:

“I wish I was writing with better news. I should do that you know? So should you.”

In this age of connectedness isn’t it a marvel that people still feel disconnected?  Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, HootSuite, PostPost, RSS feeds, Disqus….they all announce every thought or movement we undertake.  You can know what I’m thinking from moment to moment and where I’m thinking my thoughts.  Yet it’s not wrong to say that most people still feel a disconnect.

After all, my whereabouts listed on Facebook and my thoughts about my location and situation are publicly traded commodities.  That’s not much of a personal interaction is it?

What I assume is communication and a back and forth exchange isn’t considered a personal discourse when I’m also sharing it with 256 other “friends”.  In the epoch of Facebook, I have friends who aren’t friends at all in the strict and old fashioned sense.  What I have is a great heap of pen pals, where our writing to one another is instantaneous.  I have grown to know strangers through writing in a public forum, and my new found “pen pals” feel as true of friends as any who live in my own personal sphere.

So, I should write more personally, interact more personally, and not rely on the mass distribution of thought and action.  This is true.  And not true.

It’s true because we really do need to place hands on one another more often. There is no reason why we must let this pendulum swing all the way to its end on this digital arc…we CAN stop it mid-swing and send it back to the center.  Without doubt, I adore the digital arc but I adore the humanity of my friends much more.

I should interact more personally…but here’s where it’s not true:  I really am writing this to you. 

You may be my friend or acquaintance, or you may be a stranger living in a foreign country; I’m popular in Germany, the UK and Singapore you know! But whether I know you or not I am writing this to YOU. If I weren’t, then at no point would I stop, cock my head to the side and consider a word choice, check for repetitions or worry about typos. My subject matter would be wildly controversial and I’d alienate half of my readership from the start.

If I weren’t writing to YOU, then I’d never give a second thought to whether or not this was funny, or thought provoking.  It’s quite a conundrum…the pile of thought that one email opened up for me….because I’m writing this to YOU (as long as you’re not some nutter stalker) but perhaps you don’t know it.

How does the impersonal format of my writing transcend the space to let you know how much I consider you in its creation?  Can it suffice for me to tell you now, whoever you are, known by name or unknown by name, that I truly do consider YOU in each and every word I write?
This is not a diary made public.

Perhaps the nicest thing about this digital age is that I am finally meeting all the strangers out there…all the friends whose names I’ve not known before. And in so doing I create a wider personal sphere, a larger group of friends for whom I must have a care and a deeper interaction.

And so.  What do I do now that I agree and disagree with my friend’s statement?  I aim to do both.  And so should you...”

…because public pronouncements are wonderful but so are hand shakes and hugs.  A status update is a fine interruption in the day for a laugh and a touchstone, but so is a hand written note or phone call…because the personal still matters.

*Photo credits...honestly, I've had these pix saved for so long I don't have a clue where I found them.  A Google search no doubt.  So get on that if you want attribution.

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