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On Online Communication

I was texting with an old friend the other day, when, out of the blue, he wrote: “I hate this texting bullshit. Why don’t you give me a call and we can talk like normal humans!” I get it—a phone call is more intimate and less prone to misinterpretation than texting. But his comment also frustrated me because he is a single man who can shoot the breeze on a random Tuesday evening. I, on the other hand, was in the middle of cleaning up a mac’n’cheese spill, feeding my whining dog, texting a colleague about work, and asking my children about their days. I found his irritation to be . . . irritating. Furthermore, rather than his pressure resulting in a phone call, it ended with radio silence—I didn’t have the space or energy to call.

Similarly, I recently overheard a conversation while in line at Safeway. A guy was telling his buddy, “Dude, all these people who post social media pics of what they’re cooking need to get a life!” His friend responded, “Right?! Why not cook the damn meal for your friends in person?” I have to admit, I had similar thoughts in the past . . . before I was on the go from 6am to 10pm in one form or another. And, before we were all housebound and isolated for long stretches of time thanks to Covid. And, before I’d really considered the fact that sharing something simple like a picture of a cooking success is a small way to connect with others. There have been many late nights in my kitchen when, after everyone was FINALLY asleep, preparing an enchilada feast was the highlight of my day and posting evidence of my efforts helped me feel human. So, while spending time with friends is preferable, sharing daily-life on social media platforms is not necessarily a sign of “having no life.” At least for me, it is an indicator of having a busy and somewhat complicated existence filled with a lot of responsibility and lack of resources. I connect when and where I can.

Lastly, I think sometimes we get so caught up in critiquing electronic communication that we forget it has unique advantages. I worked with a group of people who nearly refused to use email. Like my buddy, their mentality was “talking is authentic, written communication is shallow.” Yet, in the end, they didn’t communicate and things that needed saying festered in the shadows. As a writer, I find something incredibly beautiful and cathartic about getting the opportunity to think about what I say before I say it—I get to act rather than react (I try not to send emails when I'm angry . . . risky!). Often times, I don’t even know what it is I need to say until I’ve had the opportunity to hash it out in writing. I also appreciate being able to reference what others have shared with me as my memory is a fickle companion and, years from now, I will still have these conversations. I'm very grateful, for example, that I still have emails from my grandpa.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m exhausted with video chats and emails and my connections with friends being primarily virtual. I’m also well aware of the dangers of online communication—I nearly lost a close friendship through texting when a good’ol’fashioned sit-down might have straightened things up after a few beers. I’ve also seen far too many people boldly spread hatred from behind the safety of a computer screen when, in person, I doubt they’d behave in that manner. In other words, this is not a call to unequivocally accept online communication. It is, however, an acknowledgement that, when used mindfully, it can be a powerful tool. As we all struggle in this “brave new world,” I personally want to embrace practices that promote thoughtful communication and human connection. So, if you make a killer lasagna, post directions on how to do it. If your souffle explodes everywhere, even better! I want to see pics. And, old friends from all over the world, the reality is that we are not going to sit down and have an hour phone call—I barely call the people I should be calling. So, please do send me the three sentence “what’s up homie!” note or a complaint that you ran out of Mandalorian episodes to watch. Or, that you are getting divorced and drinking too much. We can keep it real, whatever the level.

On that note, thank you to all of you who took even a few seconds to post happy-birthday wishes to me on Facebook and/or those who are reading this right now. It made my birthday better and that’s real enough in my book.

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