Stephanie (collacentaur) wrote,

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On the ever-changing nature of communication

I used to be a communications hub. People would ask me first for phone numbers, addresses, and the latest news of whoever they hadn't spoken to recently. These days, I feel less like the operator, and more like a local access television station.

I used to be a letter writer, back in the days before everyone had constant email access. I wrote pages and pages of chatty letters, longhand, to people who had moved away or who I'd met at the JCL conventions. I still have a collection of the letters I received in reply. During long lazy summer afternoons, I would hear the mail truck up the street, and walk down the driveway to collect our mail from Denise the mail carrier in person. We knew our postal workers better then. If she saw me when I was baby-sitting in another neighborhood on her route, she would let me know if I'd received anything interesting that day. Today, although I know the office's mailman that well, I don't think I've even ever seen our mail delivered at home. I still send Christmas cards every year, as I have since I was twelve, but every year I receive a few less.

I used to talk on the telephone all the time. Telephones have always made me nervous. I'm not sure why that used to be, but I think it must have been the uncertainty of who would answer. These days, it's definitely about whether I'm calling at a bad time. Cell phones are definitely both a blessing and a curse. It's much easier to get hold of someone when you really need to, which is very good. However, the culture has changed such that people expect to be able to reach each other at any time, and most people don't seem to feel they can just ignore a call if it's not a good time. I think that's crazy, especially when caller ID means you can see who it is and judge whether it's really important or not. I hate finding out that I've interrupted something or woken someone up, especially if I was just calling to chat or could have left a message. As a result, I almost never call anyone any more if I don't have a specific purpose. Most people have stopped calling me, too, and there are only a few people left who still call. Last night I had an extended telephone conversation for the first time in... well, I don't even know how long. It felt good.

I used to exchange emails all the time. Email is great - if both people are online, it can be very conversational, but there's no problem if one or the other has to walk away for half an hour or for two days. It's not even limited to two people at a time! I've emailed about important things like life and love and death and sex and taxes. I've participated in collaborative creative writing through email - the duck conspiracies being a notable and memorable example of the spontaneous creativity, but hardly the only example. Recently, I find that my email is mostly about scheduling, the negotiations before something goes onto the calendar. Or it's reminders, things I sent to myself or asked someone else to send me because I can't remember anything any more and have to keep it all written down and accessible. Most of the conversations I have over email now are with my parents, or other people like them who are resisting being brainwashed by Facebook.

I used to use instant messaging. It's almost as good as a phone call, and it used to be cheaper before long distance became free. First it was send on daniel, and tells on the MUD. Then ICQ and AIM. When gmail added chat functionality, I embraced it wholeheartedly, and I even dabble a little in Facebook's chat from time to time. Even that seems to happen less often now, though certainly it's not gone by any means. Am I less social than I used to be? Or are we all too busy even for that?

The expected shape of communications seems to have changed. Instead of the interactive model, it's now a radiating model. Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, my dear friend LiveJournal, and who knows how many other networking sites and tools, all promote the production of content on your time and distributed widely, for others to read or not according to their time and interest. All of them have some sort of comment or reply capability, so interactivity is certainly not eliminated, but it seems greatly reduced. At any rate, it's certainly much less personal, since every message is for mass consumption.

What I'm doing right this minute isn't communication, it's verbal self-gratification. There is only one person I can be certain will read this. Oh, I can make some educated guesses. Most likely, two or three people will read it within a very few minutes of my posting. Half a dozen more may get to it before the end of the day, and a few more in the next week or so. One will apologize to me a month from now, because he will have only just seen it then. Several will see it in their friends list, but decide not to click the cut tag. And that's just from my list of friends. I have no idea who from the wider world might pass by. I never will know that you've read this, whoever you are, unless you happen to comment here or mention it to me later.[1] No, the only person I can be absolutely certain will read this – is me. I'll read it immediately after posting, and catch a typo of some sort, which I will correct. I'll read it before bed tonight, second-guess something I said, but leave it in because it's been up too long to change it. Most likely, a few days from now, I'll check back again for any of a number of reasons.

The communication happens when someone reads, when they comment, when the monologue becomes dialogue. I'm a frequent commenter. I post *hugs* or, on Facebook, "like" things. I'm big on feedback. In part, this is because my mom is a teacher, and I learned young to always give feedback so people don't think they're talking to empty air. In part, it's because I live life out loud much of the time, so I'm saying whatever I'm thinking, and goodness knows I'm frequently opinionated. Largely, though, it's because I want to interact. I want it to be real communication.

In the last couple of days, I've had two very good conversations, one in person and one by telephone. It reminds me that I'm at my best not when I'm blathering on like this, but when I'm letting others do the talking. I'm a very good listener. I'm an active listener. I intentionally cultivated the skill.

I tend to be old-fashioned. I'm a late adopter. And I've still let radiating communication take over from the interactive communication I prefer. I want to change. Or, perhaps, what I want is to not change, to go back to actual conversation even when using technology.

This week, I'm trying to do better. I've sent a few emails following up on in-person conversations. I've sent emails to a couple of people I haven't talked to in a while, and I intend to keep doing so with others I feel I'm drifting away from. I'm also going to try to be better at responding to people promptly. I know I don't like waiting to hear from others, so I shouldn't make others wait to hear from me. And even here, I'm going to stop holding myself back from commenting when I have something to say, even if I'm browsing past people I don't usually follow. After all, I'm already on a personal quest to make new friends, and that's one way to do it. Who knows, I might even do something strange like pick up the phone and call. I did yesterday. It could happen again.


[1] That is not a request for checking in, by the way. I don't need "I read this" "Me too" comments. Some things, many things, just don't require any response, or don't lend themselves to public commentary. I like getting comments when people do think of something to say. That's what turns it into communication. But I don't want it to be forced.

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