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There are some ways in which I very clearly was born into the wrong generation. Most often when I recognize this, it's to do with career path and personal expectations and the like. In this case, I'm thinking of my old-fashioned approach toward communications.

You see, I'm a letter writer by nature, as well as a journal keeper. I don't know when I started writing letters as more than just thank-you notes, but I know that by the time I was 13, I was maintaining a regular correspondence with an adult friend. Two years later, I started writing regularly to people I'd met at national conventions, and I continued to write letters to people all through high school. In fact, I distinctly recall that the summer after my first year of college, I was still using the postal service to communicate with a number of people, some of whom I’m still in touch with.

The letter has always appealed to me, for much the same reasons that journals do. It allows for full development of ideas, without being interrupted, in as much or as little space as seems appropriate. It can cover one subject, or many little ones. It can be deep philosophy, gossipy news, travel reports, and countless other things - even all in the same letter.

Now, of course one can do the same thing with email. But while it has become a great advantage to communications in general to be able to rapidly email back and forth, the speed has also changed the expectations. Most emails, like most websites, should fit on one screen without scrolling. Thus, anything more than a paragraph or so becomes "long" and takes up too much time. Time, of course, is the valuable resource that none of us have, and can't afford to waste. So much for the space to fully develop ideas. For that matter, so much for the time to develop those ideas, unless you happen to be quick enough to do it all at once.

Letters also have a few advantages that email doesn't handle nearly as well (although all of it can be done with some effort). While you can attach things to email, they have to be digitized first; you can't just stick it in the envelope. It's harder to enclose a quick diagram or sketch in an email without making a big production of it. Doodling in the corners of your email would be just silly, instead of more personal. A round-robin email doesn’t come across the same way, for it's harder to differentiate the handwriting (and very hard to make it a game to guess whose it is!). And, of course, there are still some places and times that it's easier or safer to use pen and paper than an electronic device. I would mention confetti and perfume, but then I don't think those should go into letters either. I also used to enjoy writing postscripts on the back of the envelopes. Or asking the mailmen who handled the letter to sign (especially fun on international mail). Or coloring, or putting on stickers.

I'm just an old-fashioned girl, though. I prefer face-to-face conversations to telephone conversations, too. Oh, I can talk for hours on the phone, depending on the person I'm talking to, and what gets me started. But the physical cues and reactions help conversation flow better, and allow for nuances. And it's easier to indicate where you want to follow up on what the other person's saying, or keep from being interrupted. Interruption is one of my pet peeves in any conversation; the pauses in my conversation as I try to organize my thoughts and put them into English often give others the chance to jump in and change the subject before I even get started, and make it hard for me to get it back again. What's more, the only way I manage to counteract that is by interrupting back (or preemptively), or by talking over someone else. Neither of those are options I like or respect, but I get so sick of never getting a word in edgewise when I don't use them.

And then there's instant messaging, simultaneously the joy and bane of my existence. Oh, it's great to be able to chat with people regularly, realtime, for free, even when they're in a different state, time zone, or even country. And I use it; I'm usually on AIM whenever my home computer is on, which is usually whenever I'm at home. Yet, it's prone to all the same problems I've complained about already. No non-verbal cues - not even tone of voice. And there's only so much you can do with emoticons and *gestures* even if you bother. No time to develop thoughts - frequently, no time for more than six words at a time. I frequently end up sending the a phrase at a time so I can get the entire sentence out before the other person interrupts me. It's hard to have a serious exchange of ideas at that pace. And it all seems so impersonal.

I may be a late adopter, but I do use my technology. I live on my email all my waking hours. I spend most evenings on AIM, frequently in two or more conversations at once while doing three other things. I feel naked if I go out without my cell phone. But at the same time, I can't help longing for a simpler day. Then again, were the simpler days really any better, or is that just nostalgia talking?

I feel like I never have any meaningful conversation any more. About the only time I get to talk about something more meaty than bitching about work, gossiping about people, or planning (or playing) a game, is when I write up something here. And even then, most of the time I don't get much by the way of response. Of course the point of a journal is to talk to yourself, but with a public journal I keep feeling like I should be saying something that interests others. It's that time and length factor again, I know. If I put up a post that said nothing but "Hey, I'm bored, comment to this!" I could have twenty comments in an hour, which would degenerate into a conversation about the ducks. But that's not intellectually stimulating, at least not often. The long ones take too much time to digest and respond to meaningfully, and if something sits 24 hours or a week, no one goes back to it (for that matter, I understand some people never even bother reading behind cut-tags in the first place, as a matter of principle).

When you write letters, it can take a week, or more, to hear back from the other person even once. I guess that's why no one writes any more. The pace of life is just too frenetic.

Between that, and paying attention to nails and hair, to popular trends and celebrity news, I sometimes feel like my brain cells are evaporating, leaving nothing but cellulose fluff. And yet, I know I haven't stopped thinking. If anything, I am thinking more often, more thoroughly, more expressively, more articulately. I'm just not doing anything useful with it, nor am I engaging in dialogue. Dialogue, yes, that is the word I'm seeking, instead of conversation or communication.

And now there's a bit of Simon and Garfunkel playing in my head. Perhaps it's just my age, and not my generation after all.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 28th, 2004 02:01 am (UTC)
Hey, we've recently had real conversations.

But I'm right with you.. I've always maintained that technology kills communication as much as facilitates it. I also remarked how LJ has further killed communication.. instead on conversation, you speak via posts now, much like on a bulletin board, but instead of reading and replying, this person posts on his LJ, this other person posts on her LJ, and so on.. so there's no real communication, just lots of posts flying around that you may or may not look at. And it sucks for me, since sometimes I go a week or more without reading LJ, and lately every time I start talking to someone, inevitably the phrase "I posted it in my LJ, didn't you see it?" pops up.

There's always time for a letter. I don't get nearly enough anymore. And as I say that, I'm reminded of two care packages I should be sending out to people.
Jul. 28th, 2004 03:29 am (UTC)
every time I start talking to someone, inevitably the phrase "I posted it in my LJ, didn't you see it?" pops up.

*nod* And I'm certainly guilty of that.

Problem is, I work up these long posts that say what I want to say, in a fair amount of detail. So when it comes up again, rather than try to reconstitute it, I want to refer you (or whoever) to where I said it the right way. And then I realize that half the time it was filtered so that whoever I'm talking to didn't see it anyway, and I have to go edit my filters...

Or, on the flip side, often I write something that is inspired by a conversation that got cut short, or that didn't go where I wanted it to, or I just thought about later and had more to say about. (this whole post is an example of this, actually. It's a distillation of about two hours of thinking after a very short conversation earlier. Has nothing to do with the person I was talking to, and very little to do with what was said - but it got me thinking.) And that is what I want from my conversations... it's just that it doesn't seem to work in practice as well as in theory. Because then sometimes I end up having to explain later that no, I'm not mad, upset, or sometimes even thinking about the person I was originally talking to at all - it's just the conversation thread got me going.

You know, as I read this and look at my several-sentence-long parenthetical thoughts, I'm thinking I really need to start footnoting this stuff out instead.
Jul. 28th, 2004 03:31 am (UTC)
Footnotes are cool. Could be entertaining, too, to do a post in footnotes.... I might follow your example and think about that...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )