It’s Personal – My Thoughts on Communication in this Digital Age

JOE:
It wasn’t personal.

KATHLEEN:
It was business. What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All it means is it’s not personal to you, but it’s personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. What’s wrong with personal anyway?

JOE:
Nothing.

KATHLEEN:
I mean, whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

~ “You’ve Got Mail”~

*****

It’s been awhile since I’ve thrown some Redheaded Ramblings up on the interwebz. Given that I’ve been hopped-up on post-surgical painkillers since I went and trashed my ankle on July 4th, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this post and – to my surprise – the many people who have inspired its contents.

Curled-up on the couch for a “me” evening this week, this blog was already crafted in pen-to-paper outline form. I popped an old favorite, “You’ve Got Mail,” into the DVD player and was sidelined by the quote above.

I mean, whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

Indeed…

Simultaneously blessed and plagued by the benefits of living in a digital age, I’m tied to my computer and phone pretty much 24/7. You’ve heard my plea in favor of unplugging. You’ve heard me rant about annoying Twitterati. But the last two weeks have been a lesson for me in communication – what I do, what I like, what I value and what I despise.

Communication for me is very personal. It’s how I reach out to clients, stay in touch with friends, share a laugh or lend a shoulder to cry on. It’s the tool we use to gauge relationships, start new ones, continue good ones and end those that aren’t working. And I think we’re getting pretty damn lazy when it comes to how we choose to communicate.

We’re creating a litany of electronic excuses.

Texts, tweets and emails in lieu of phone calls and face-to-face conversations.

Accumulation as opposed to filtration.

E-cards instead of the real ones you have to actually slap a stamp on and schlep to the post office. (the horror)

And I hate it. I truly do and from the bottom of my soul.

In spite of my rants and words with an edge, I’m the eternal optimist mixed with a hopeless romantic. Sometimes not the best of combinations, but hey — it’s ME. (I think I recently described myself as a “pragmatic romantic.”) In business, this means I’ll give my customer the benefit of the doubt…until it turns into a situation where there’s little symbiosis and much usury. With friends, it means I’m always available and perhaps to a fault, but they’re available to me in the same way. In relationships, it’s come to pass that my heart is willing (and perhaps too soon), embracing “come what may” with open arms and damn the consequences.

My business, my friends, my loves/likes/lusts — they’re personal. And this trivial practice we’ve engaged in as a society of thinking that electronic communication is some sort of acceptable substitute to live and PERSONAL interaction is flat-out bullshit. I’ll break it down by sector so my rant isn’t nearly so…continuous. Come along with me – and I truly do wish we could have this conversation in person.

Social Media, especially Twitter

I talk about Twitter the most…because I GET IT. That’s not some self-congratulatory statement. I really *do* get it. I’ve found my groove – what works for me and what doesn’t  – and really love living life in a series of 140 characters or less expressions.

The two most frequent questions I get are:

  • Why don’t you WANT more followers?
  • Why should I even use Twitter? It seems like a complete time suck.

Let’s address those one by one.

Followers – Fans. Admirers. But for those who seek them, Johnny-Come-Latelys/Bandwagoner/Tagalongs. I put out my content and am confident that people will find me through friends who follow me and share my schizz or by stumbling across my blogs. THOSE are the followers I want. I’m violent in my opposition to those who use auto-DMs and sales-pitchy words on Twitter because they’re taking what can possibly be the most *personal* of all social networks and instantly making it as impersonal as possible. We hate spam in our inboxes. Hell, I get pissed when I get physical MAIL (most of the time). The last thing I need is a shitload of people following me around like goslings to a goose. Goose crap smells and your Twitter stream will in time if you’re not selective. I seem to inadvertently maintain a 50% follow to followers ratio, and the answer to the next question will tell you why.

Why bother with the time suck? Holy hell – there are days I wonder. But they’re few and far between. About a year and half ago, I was new to Twitter and didn’t know my reply button from my ass. I didn’t have a clearly defined online personality (compared with one I’ve been told recently that’s “unmistakably in-your-face with a bouquet of daisies on the side”) and I didn’t really know who to follow, what to say or why I was doing any of it.

This past weekend, it all became very clear.

While I’ve forged business relationships through time and been able to connect fellow tweeps with one another when their needs collided in a match of wants/haves, I have earned genuine friends through my efforts online. Having had surgery on July 10th for an oh-so-broken ankle, I simply cannot count the offers for assistance,  visits to my home, well-wishes and gorgeous flowers that line my bar. While most of these are from people I’ve been fortunate enough to forge friendships with since moving to Denver last November, the most surprising are those from people I’ve never met.

Ever.

The most welcomed were those gestures from people whom I considered acquaintances yet have truly turned out ot be friends. So ridiculous hash tags and #fbombs aside…I must be livin’ right. Each of you know who you are and you humble me. YOU are why I’m on Twitter. It’s impossible to be genuine when your attention is divided consistently and you lack focus. I’m grateful I chose to take the time to focus on getting to know certain tweeps who are no longer “just tweeps.” They’ve gone from 2-D to 3-D … and 3-D is personal.

Business and the Glory that is Email

We’re all guilty of it: pounding out an email to avoid actual client/customer/colleague interaction. Jerks, jerks, jerks we are! From busy schedules to sometime just not wanting to engage, we opt for what I call the “reach out and touch someone while looking away.” Our communication efforts are more of a blind groping coupled with a hope for pacification as opposed to efforts that actually offer resolution, satisfaction, or work towards deepening the client relationship. After a company-wide meeting about two months ago, all of the Directors at my full-time day gig walk around with iPhone headsets sprouting out of our heads like high-tech appendages. We spend more time on the phone, less time on email and the result? HUGE customer satisfaction rates, increased attendance at training and educational webinars, unbelievable increases in site membership and an open dialogue that’s resulted in some pretty kickass improvements to our product.

Why? Because we asked. We called. We followed-up. Email’s great and is highly effective in many cases, but jeez – did you know the iPhone dials OUT? (we had no idea)

Life, Love, and Laughter

Think about the friends and lovers in your life. How many of those were earned through text messages, emails and direct messages? While I’m fortunate enough to have developed some pretty amazing friends through my social media circles – I’ll tell ya: it ain’t cause I tweet or email pretty. It’s because it’s personal to me. There’s not a day that goes by where a random text or email doesn’t brighten my day, but it’s the live, interpersonal interaction that I thrive on and crave.

Sex in the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw was pretty miffed about Berger breaking up with her over a Post-It note.

Why do we use electronic Post-Its so frequently?

I think electronic communication is a great supplement to what we’ve developed with the people in our lives, but it’s not a substitute for making the time to pick up the phone and say hello or grab a cup of coffee (or simply play hooky mid-day for a quick kiss with your flavor of the week/month/year/lifetime). When you can sit across from someone and see their smile, their mannerisms…tickle them…drop something…burn dinner – life’s never perfect and it’s those moments of imperfection that endear people to us. And us them.

Electronic communication can be completely sterile and if someone in your life won’t make the time or take the time to add real life into your relationship – whether friend or lover – perhaps it’s time to reassess the value that person places on having you as a part of their lives.

And for fuck sake: if you have something important to say, don’t drop a text or email bomb. Grow a pair, pick up the phone and have a conversation – or if you suck on the phone (like I do – I’m a huge fan of speaking live), ask to get together because you have something to talk about. Email and texts leave SO much open to the imagination and do nothing but make us wonder: Well, what the hell is THAT about? What does it MEAN? In the time it takes to write that text or email bomb, you could have asked to speak in person. And yes – that makes it personal. The horror.

Now, to end this, I will say that I’m a big emailer, text messager and direct messager on Twitter. But you know what? They’re supplements to the LIVE (or in social media terms: IRL – In Real Life) relationships I share and foster. Things can begin virtually, but if you’re not willing to put the live, in-person time in to help something grow…cut the cord and don’t string people along just because you’re afraid of dealing with someone or something face-to-face. And on the contrary – there’s nothing wrong with electronic communication if it’s a PART of your interaction with anyone. Allowing it to become a crutch…a substitute…an excuse — that’s where we all probably stand to have some room for improvement.

*****

So – das all! I’m sending out three greeting cards and four thank you notes today, and none of them are virtual. And I think that when I run by the post office at lunch, I’ll buy a book of stamps. It’s been awhile since I’ve sent real mail and I’m actually pretty giddy about it! And since most of my readers will have come to this blog entry via the Twittersphere  – take a step back from #followfriday today and ask yourself: do I need more goslings and does my Twitter stream reek of goose poop?

Let’s filter instead of accumulate.

Share time and make time instead of lobbing a pacifying text or email into the ether.

Look your lover in the eyes and tell them they have goofy ears.

Engage in business instead of seeing it as a burden.

 

Because this life – whatever else it is, it ought to begin by being personal.

30 comments
Harlan
Harlan

I'm in the dark ages. I don't even have texting on my cell phone.

Harlan
Harlan

I'm in the dark ages. I don't even have texting on my cell phone.

KMB
KMB

Wow! I'm inspired for the first time in a long time...thank you!

KMB
KMB

Wow! I'm inspired for the first time in a long time...thank you!

redsaid
redsaid

Another belated kudo from a fellow redhead... I actually read this on Friday, but yesterday something happened because of what I read on here. Before I tell you about that, a quick aside: I'm relatively new to twitter as well, and still fumbling my way around there. Two weeks ago I changed my modus operandi there completely and I'm now employing it as place to have fun, creative writing exercises. But I'm actually back here to comment because of your "the phone dials out" message. Yesterday, a friend's father passed away. Now, that's always a tough situation (to put it mildly) and since I'm also horrible on the phone at the best of times, I usually put off phoning as much as I can. But then I remembered your blog. And before I could have time to talk myself out of it, I phoned my friend's mom. (Admittedly, a part of me was definitely hoping that she wouldn't pick up!) But of course she did! So I just spoke to her. I was just honest and said that I didn't know what to say except how sorry I was. I swear, she thanked me about five times for phoning her! So, thank you very much for reminding me that the phone does indeed dial out as well!! P.S. As another aside, you and I seem to be doing the same thing on opposite sides of the world. I'm also a writer (also SEO copywriting, blogging, etc. and I even do property columns too!). So it's really nice to 'meet' you!

redsaid
redsaid

Another belated kudo from a fellow redhead... I actually read this on Friday, but yesterday something happened because of what I read on here. Before I tell you about that, a quick aside: I'm relatively new to twitter as well, and still fumbling my way around there. Two weeks ago I changed my modus operandi there completely and I'm now employing it as place to have fun, creative writing exercises. But I'm actually back here to comment because of your "the phone dials out" message. Yesterday, a friend's father passed away. Now, that's always a tough situation (to put it mildly) and since I'm also horrible on the phone at the best of times, I usually put off phoning as much as I can. But then I remembered your blog. And before I could have time to talk myself out of it, I phoned my friend's mom. (Admittedly, a part of me was definitely hoping that she wouldn't pick up!) But of course she did! So I just spoke to her. I was just honest and said that I didn't know what to say except how sorry I was. I swear, she thanked me about five times for phoning her! So, thank you very much for reminding me that the phone does indeed dial out as well!! P.S. As another aside, you and I seem to be doing the same thing on opposite sides of the world. I'm also a writer (also SEO copywriting, blogging, etc. and I even do property columns too!). So it's really nice to 'meet' you!

redheadwriting
redheadwriting

Thanks for the kudos, all - a difficult piece to write. Glad you found value within and thanks for stopping by the blog. Welcome to all my new readers as well.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Thanks for the kudos, all - a difficult piece to write. Glad you found value within and thanks for stopping by the blog. Welcome to all my new readers as well.

GeePawHill
GeePawHill

Outstanding work. I feel you've outdone yourself here. It's going on my favorite blog articles list!

GeePawHill
GeePawHill

Outstanding work. I feel you've outdone yourself here. It's going on my favorite blog articles list!

fionabryan
fionabryan

I love your blog and totally get you! I "get" twitter and it has changed how I do business and has been a huge boost to my clients as soon as they "get" it. I'm guilty of not having written a paper thank you in a LONG time... I'm not sure if I feel guilty but I'm guilty of it ;)

fionabryan
fionabryan

I love your blog and totally get you! I "get" twitter and it has changed how I do business and has been a huge boost to my clients as soon as they "get" it. I'm guilty of not having written a paper thank you in a LONG time... I'm not sure if I feel guilty but I'm guilty of it ;)

May
May

I find what I think is busy, running from home to work and back again, trying to fit in the occasional grocery/haircut/shopping run. All of a sudden I realize that I haven't laid my eyes on my beautiful grandchildren in just days! Not to mention my kids and their spouses. Even though we text and email, there isn't anything quite like a hug. I just look at them because they still change and I don't want to miss any of that either. I love reading what is going on with people via the social media and thoroughly enjoy engaging in 'conversations' as well as sometimes caring and worrying about the situations they find themselves in - surgery etc. etc. I guess I feel there is a fine line between admiration and stalking! ;-) Having rambled on my real point was that I really enjoy your writing and this latest is the best. You have such a way with words! lol

May
May

I find what I think is busy, running from home to work and back again, trying to fit in the occasional grocery/haircut/shopping run. All of a sudden I realize that I haven't laid my eyes on my beautiful grandchildren in just days! Not to mention my kids and their spouses. Even though we text and email, there isn't anything quite like a hug. I just look at them because they still change and I don't want to miss any of that either. I love reading what is going on with people via the social media and thoroughly enjoy engaging in 'conversations' as well as sometimes caring and worrying about the situations they find themselves in - surgery etc. etc. I guess I feel there is a fine line between admiration and stalking! ;-) Having rambled on my real point was that I really enjoy your writing and this latest is the best. You have such a way with words! lol

redheadwriting
redheadwriting

@ David - I feel your pain! Yup - one plate and 8 screws for me as well...I had surgery 7 days ago and it's getting better. Not as quickly as I'd like, but apparently major surgery takes some recoup time! (who knew???) The Redhead

The Redhead
The Redhead

@ David - I feel your pain! Yup - one plate and 8 screws for me as well...I had surgery 7 days ago and it's getting better. Not as quickly as I'd like, but apparently major surgery takes some recoup time! (who knew???) The Redhead

hubbit
hubbit

The big thing that Twitter has done for me is enable me to become acquainted with, and at times befriend, interesting persons with different perspectives whom I would never have the opportunity to meet face to face. I'm not surprised that you had Twitter well-wishers. I honestly wanted to send something as well but felt awkward at the idea of asking your address :D But in many cases I think that a lot of us have the habit of 'adopting' those online acquaintances with whom we feel some sort of affinity or whom we respect. This week, someone who shall remain nameless messaged me out of the clear blue sky one night while in an apparent funk, saying "fuck, I'm melancholy tonight, eh?". I did my best to lend whatever support I could, considering that I don't know her that well at all, but at the same time felt honored that she chose to confide in me. In such cases, it's a personal alliance brought on by an impersonal medium. It has the power to touch and enrich lives, and in situations where the affected persons are in different states or even countries, that can only be good.

hubbit
hubbit

The big thing that Twitter has done for me is enable me to become acquainted with, and at times befriend, interesting persons with different perspectives whom I would never have the opportunity to meet face to face. I'm not surprised that you had Twitter well-wishers. I honestly wanted to send something as well but felt awkward at the idea of asking your address :D But in many cases I think that a lot of us have the habit of 'adopting' those online acquaintances with whom we feel some sort of affinity or whom we respect. This week, someone who shall remain nameless messaged me out of the clear blue sky one night while in an apparent funk, saying "fuck, I'm melancholy tonight, eh?". I did my best to lend whatever support I could, considering that I don't know her that well at all, but at the same time felt honored that she chose to confide in me. In such cases, it's a personal alliance brought on by an impersonal medium. It has the power to touch and enrich lives, and in situations where the affected persons are in different states or even countries, that can only be good.

dtpennington
dtpennington

I guess this means I might have to leave my cave and actually make a friend or two. Sooooo much effort. I may bring a keyboard along, just as a security blanket.

dtpennington
dtpennington

I guess this means I might have to leave my cave and actually make a friend or two. Sooooo much effort. I may bring a keyboard along, just as a security blanket.

David
David

Hi there, how are you feeling? I am layed up at home on pain meds as well after surgery, a plate and 8 screws! Does the pain ever get better,swelling? I know I just had surgery yesterday but I think the pain is worse today,ugh! Sorry, I had to vent, none of my family or friends understand my plight. Feel free to email me or write back.

David
David

Hi there, how are you feeling? I am layed up at home on pain meds as well after surgery, a plate and 8 screws! Does the pain ever get better,swelling? I know I just had surgery yesterday but I think the pain is worse today,ugh! Sorry, I had to vent, none of my family or friends understand my plight. Feel free to email me or write back.

Sarah Welch
Sarah Welch

Love the post! I'm on my third twitter account, and I've finally gotten it. All it took was finding the right people to follow and having a purpose.

Sarah Welch
Sarah Welch

Love the post! I'm on my third twitter account, and I've finally gotten it. All it took was finding the right people to follow and having a purpose.

Lauren
Lauren

Posts like these are why I continue to love you. Do I know you? No, not in person. But, I think we would get along splendidly if I did! :) Move to Salt Lake? ;)

Lauren
Lauren

Posts like these are why I continue to love you. Do I know you? No, not in person. But, I think we would get along splendidly if I did! :) Move to Salt Lake? ;)

Sara
Sara

Erika - this might be your best yet. I love it. I want to make everybody in the world of social media read it. Well done, hot stuff. I'm impressed. -Sara.

theclimbergirl
theclimbergirl

Erika - this might be your best yet. I love it. I want to make everybody in the world of social media read it. Well done, hot stuff. I'm impressed. -Sara.