I’m 39-years-old. I remember scratching-out writing practice exercises on Big Chief paper tablets that always seemed fit to rip out from under your pencil tip at the exact moment you could properly create a letter Q. I remember the day my mother came home with our first Atari computer (you know, the one without actual keys – it was a giant touch pad that never worked right after the first month). The brick that was our first modem? I remember getting reamed when it accidentally crashed to the floor while my brother and I were playing the classic text-based Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game on our brand-new Commodore 64.
And I’m acknowledging that the men reading this post right now either have a hard on or are utterly repulsed by my most prominent childhood memories.
I also remember the day I got my first email address. It was 1998 – I’d just fallen in love with the man who would become my second husband. An entirely lovely man named Scot – a Naval officer stationed in Japan. He was headed back to Japan and I wanted a way to stay in touch. He suggested email.
Email? Shit. I didn’t really know what it was. So I called my mom and asked her: How do I get an email address? PRESTO! My mother to the rescue (she’s a career senior systems analyst and has built every computer I’ve ever owned up until I defected to The Dark Side aka Apple products in 2010). I was set up with a Hotmail address in no time and was communicating over thousands of miles with the man I loved. Sickeningly sweet, yet needs must and this was my first foray into the digital communication age.
Today, I live in a digital world. I’m tethered to , plugged into Twitter and Facebook. I think Path’s UI is so sexy that I’d be willing to give it a handjob if it were remotely possible. I’ve got folks on LinkedIn, three email accounts, and a PO box that only gets the good stuff: checks from clients and my subscriptions to Rolling Stone and Entrepreneur Magazines.
Back in December, I took issue with the way a few of my friends (actual friends – not imagines digital ones) were conducting discourse on my personal Facebook profile. That incident led to a jettisoning of over 240 people from my “friends” list. And this week, my friend Merredith and readers Annie and Brian from my Facebook fan page have reinforced something I’ve been feeling for quite some time: through all of this digital communication, we’re breeding a culture of lazy and rude.
And it’s time for a slap.
The way we communicate these days – and the vehicles we choose to deliver certain messages even moreso. Back when I published the post that got Facebook to rate-limit my hosting company aka Is Facebook Hiding Your Messages? , the comments section was filled with tales from people who had received Facebook messages informing them that a relative or friend had died. Just yesterday, a long-time reader shared that his two-year girlfriend decided that a Facebook message was the most appropriate way to break-up with him (and I know that’s not the first time).
While I understand that we all don’t have everyone’s phone number, there are certain events in this life that warrant a bit more emotional commitment (and balls, quite frankly) to deliver than a Facebook message. Or even a text for that matter. Jesus on toast – where do I begin with the text messaging?
The Wall Our Fingers Built
What better excuse have we as a culture had to unplug from the emotional aspects of human interaction than the rise of text messaging? While inarguably convenient for sharing short, concise messages, I’ll just offer this example for the complete detachment of onus – thanks to text messaging.
Back in November and December, I’d gone on a few dates with someone whose company I enjoyed. Fun, intelligent, attractive – yet seemingly completely incapable (or unwilling) to pick up the phone. The day after a rather awkward lunch date where I felt like I’d been crammed into an opening in his schedule as opposed to someone that was a pleasure to make time for (it ended up being my birthday, coincidentally), I received a three-window text message from him explaining that he thinks I’m swell but just not what he’s looking for in a relationship but he’d be more than happy to accompany me as a date to any professional functions I might need to attend that I felt might interest him (blah-blah-blah).
First off, there’s no arguing that we shared the same sentiment.
Secondly, it took him three windows on my iPhone to explain this to me.
Third, that text was sent to my phone number.
Finally, we won’t go into the skewed logic that given this display of failure to engage that I would even consider him as someone with whom I’d care to present as some sort of partner in public – but hey…thanks for taking pity on a single gal.
When did we forget that there are human beings on the other end of the messages that our fingers so furiously type on impossibly small screens on device with capabilities of similar impossibilities?
I feel that a significant portion of what’s going wrong in this world is a byproduct of what we’ve come to accept as acceptable in the realm of communication.
I’m Growing Detachment in My Digital Laboratory – Care to Step Inside?
There’s an exchange from a favorite feel-good movie of mine, You’ve Got Mail, that sums it up best.
Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.
Personal. Communication between human beings – especially between ones whom we consider friends, lovers, and treasured colleagues – used to be overwhelmingly personal. Folks had to sit down and write letters. Pick up the phone. God forbid, drop by a friend’s house with a bottle of scotch or a bundt cake when the shit had really hit the fan. Our current age of digital communication has somehow granted permission (and falsely) for us to treat everyone with the same casual disregard and borderline contempt as the jackass on the sidewalk in front of us who doesn’t understand that we’re trying to get somewhere and can’t seem to step it up a notch.
And that’s no way to treat people.
We’re continuously cultivating a garden of detachment through all of these digital means of communication. We’ve become entirely lazy when it comes to the emotional commitment it takes to cultivate relationships (of any sort) and instead, accepted that sending a text/email/Facebook message is an appropriate way to develop a connection – and at our worst, unplug completely.
What happened to the adolescent anticipation we felt waiting for the phone to ring? Where did we lose the excitement we felt when we saw the flag down on the mailbox which told us we could run outside to see what stamped-and-canceled treasures lay inside? But more importantly, what happened to the stark honesty it takes to use our voices and share what needs sharing – over the phone or (god forbid) in person?
So Let’s Talk About Facebook For a Moment, Shall We?
It’s an election year. Lines have been drawn in the sand and friends and foes alike aren’t too ashamed of spouting off on what they think and feel. But when did Facebook’s invitation to Write something become license for assholian behavior of incomprehensible levels?
I’ll say that it has a lot to do with the total perversion of our collective definition of “friend.”
On my Facebook fan page and blog comments alike – I have but one rule: you can say whatever you feel needs saying and in the vernacular of your choice, but you will do it with respect, goddammit.
And we need a severe infusion of Aretha Franklin up in this joint, because R-E-S-P-E-C-T has gone right out the window by and large in the Land of Facebook.
The Land of Facebook isn’t some mythical place where we can say whatever the fuck we want on other people’s walls without consequence. Facebook is a tool that supposed to help us develop relationships with more people than we ever thought possible. And there’s a reason that our connections on our personal pages are called “friends.” We’ve forgotten that the audience on Facebook is vast – and that most of the time when interacting with friends, we’re putting our thoughts up for review to their audience not ours. Stop and think for one frog’s fine ass hair-sized moment whether you’re acting like a dick.
Facebook doesn’t offer anyone a cloak of invisibility. Start conducting yourself as if the people who were seeing the shit you post and spew were standing right in front of you – and were able to throttle you (or even hug you). There is nothing I post on my personal OR fan page that I wouldn’t say live – and that’s because that while RedheadWriting might be part persona, I know that people keep coming back to read for the person behind her.
There’s a person behind every word you see on Facebook. Including you. And there’s no excuse for the lack of respect that’s plaguing the walls and pages across this great digital tool that’s supposed to fun – yet as of late, has become exhausting for many.
And So We Come Back to Humans…
We’re breeding this culture of lazy and rude – each of us play a role. We continue the email thread, we reply to the text message, we drop what we’re doing to reply to a Facebook thread when we should be doing shit that runs our respective businesses. We type things with knee-jerk reactions, we use language we wouldn’t use in front of someone we respect and love, and we think that people don’t have a right to be heard because we’re the letter of the law and can’t possibly be bothered with ideas other than our own.
We stare at our phones with contempt when they have the fucking audacity to ring.
What happened to the humans in all of this?
I’ve been smacked down by friends on more than one occasion for using a digital crutch to communicate – especially when the device also acted as a phone. And so today, I’m passing that smack on to you.
Things should begin by being personal – whatever they are. As even the smallest business decisions elicit an emotional response. I’ll speculate that there’s a special circle of hell that Dante would allocate to those who feel that digital communication is the best way to break up with a lover, end a business relationship, or otherwise take an arm’s length distance from the message that needs conveying.
I understand that we all communicate differently. I’m a writer, for fuck sake – this post is nearly 1900 words. Digital communication allows us to be extremely efficient in many cases and we’re endlessly frustrated when the batteries in our phones and laptops die, putting a crimp in our nonstop pursuit of productivity.
But never forget – with all of the blessings and mind-blowing innovations of digital technology that humans eventually run out of batteries, too.
And wouldn’t it be especially splendid if, when that time came, we felt that we’d used our own batteries to plug into the people who matter most in our lives with every ounce of energy we had, instead of being lazy and letting technology create our memories for us?
You’ve been slapped.