Thursday, February 3, 2011

Is it possible to communicate too much?

The Springer Rescue group which does most
of its communicating over the internet.
There are times that I'm a bit of a social reactionary. I like to have some peace and quiet and miss the Westford I moved to 13 years ago. Even though the area around my property hasn't changed, the traffic on my street has certainly increased. I also miss simple things like the sound of a rake and a push mower, and the slow hissing of steam radiators on a blustery night.

When I poke around consignment shops, I see reminders of a simpler time--rotary phones that needed half as many numbers dialed to connect but took twice as long to dial; typewriters with well-worn keys and a broken carriage return; Super 8 film projectors that made a hypnotic clack-clack-clack sound as the family watched home movies projected on the wall with the lights turned off.

We replaced those clunky old devices with slick, mostly-quiet electronic masterpieces. We lost the familiar and replaced it with something better--speed. I spend a fair amount of time with teens because of the youth group I co-lead and also my "aging" niece and nephews. I'm hip to all the new gadgets and use a lot of them.

Some of my friends and family members roll their eyes when I check my email from my phone, some even roll their eyes when I talk about email. Those folks say that the world has gotten too complicated and we can only communicate over the airwaves now.

Okay. I can live with some of that. I can sometimes use my phone to get lost in my own world. When I'm waiting for an appointment, I play with my phone instead of chatting up the person next to me. I can see that, at times, I reach out less to strangers.

However, I also have to consider the other side of the coin. Because of email and social networking apps, I find that I have more friends and connect with them more frequently.

I'm not a talking-on-the-phone person. Most of my friends know that. If you want to connect with me and it's not an emergency, use the computer. I like that I can correspond when it's convenient and use language that is maybe more carefully chosen than it would be if I'm rushing out the door. I get together with people quite a bit but almost always arrange that over email.

To those who say that the internet is impersonal and takes us away from making meaningful connections, I say, "Try it."

Thanks to social networking sites, I have connected with long-lost friends and rekindled friendships that would have been gone forever otherwise. I've gotten closer to cousins that I would only see at weddings and funerals. I can see pictures of friends and family who live out of state and feel like I'm there.

I have also formed friendships because of email. For example, over four years ago, I sent an email to a local political analyst whose work I always admired. That email turned into a friendship that has seen us reach out to each other at times of great sadness, tease each other about our idiosyncrasies, and meet up at a concert of a favorite band. He has been a mentor and supporter of my writing since I first began my publishing journey. We have met in person only twice but that doesn't change the fact that we call each other "friend."

If I had to guess, I would have to say that those people would not be in my life now had there been no internet. My circle of treasured humans has expanded. And anytime I need a laugh or a pick-me-up, I look back at old emails they've sent to me just as I would a letter I saved. The difference is, there are more emails than there would have been letters.

Every generation has its form of communication. Before the computer, there was the telephone. Before the telephone, there was the mail. Before the mail, there were smoke signals.

I'd like to think that we improve our communication as we evolve. Our ways to communicate have expanded even though our civility in communication hasn't always followed. But that's a blog post for another day. And you can find it right here, on the internet.


  1. Good post. I go back and forth on this. I find nothing wrong with email, Facebook, etc. I enjoy the online world. But for those friends who are far away, I find I hear their voices less as email as replaced a lot of that time we used to put in to staying connected. Email feels like less of an effort. Also, while it's nice to have a record of correspondence, there is nothing like a phone call or face-to-face to convey one's true feelings about something. Too many times something I've said or something that has been said to me over email have resulted in a misunderstanding.

  2. I do a lot of face-to-face meetings. I tend to arrange those via email. My preference is to sit across the table from someone and talk. But that can't always happen. I am always available to talk to friends and family on the phone whenever they need an ear or some advice. They know that. And I call the folks every day to check in on them. I know not everyone wants or is able to use a computer so talking on the phone with those folks is never a problem either. I just like the fact that email is convenient - you can communicate when it's good timing for both sender and receiver.