Sunday, February 10, 2008

The New Internet Age of Passive Communication

There was a time when I wrote letters. I remember this well – the attention to my stationary, stickers to be used as a seal or just funky decoration, remembering to write “By Air Mail” to avoid confusion as to other possible methods of transport, taking care to ensure I write the address legibly (part of my paranoia that it will be sent to a different street… or continent!). This part was actually pure fun, which we then expanded on with what we placed inside. I once wrote a friend an entire letter on an airline barf bag, used every available surface area (external, of course). I wrote another as a spiral starting from the edge of a page, or as non-consecutive, but numbered, boxes… And if you think I have a twisted mind, let me point out that these methods were either copied or inspired from what others had done to me, which I suppose could also only mean that ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

But I digress as I wax and wane nostalgically like an old lady rocking on her porch, or Mediterranean veranda. The point is not only in the directed effort for individual lines of communication, but rather that we were aware of who we were communicating with and actively shared news and views with them. Each piece of communication was a little different, was not necessarily comprehensive as much as carrying what we most wanted to share with our correspondent at that time. Furthermore, receiving a letter frequently triggered a need for acknowledgement, leading to a response, and the cycle of communication maintained momentum.

The introduction of email facilitated this process in many ways. And with that grew the demand to communicate with more people, and at a quicker pace. Fortunately, email contained the tricks that allowed us to do this – copying and pasting parts written in one email into another, mass emails, one liners… It was all done in good faith, but communication started its slippery slide towards what would become more impersonal.

Today, we maintain blogs, have turned ‘facebooking’ into a verb, and seem to write as if to ourselves, while we lay back and passively expect others to read all about us. I don’t write this in criticism, which would be utterly hypocritical as I partake in both facilities. Rather, I point this out as I self-reflect on two realizations: (a) that I’m always pleasantly surprised by who does read all about me, compared to who I thought would, and (b) that I’m consistently missing out on communicating with friends I would have normally written to regularly who are, sadly, not blog surfers or facebookers. I suppose I’m writing this in part as confession, and in part as apology – I have slid down the easy path to passive communication, and not sure how to find my way out.

I’ll keep working on it… promise!

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