Recently, while sipping breakfast coffee, I commented on a New York Times article about, among other things, connecting with friends,“The Flight From Conversation” by MIT professor Sherry Tunkle. Her first paragraph goes like this:
“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”
Though I am guilty of sacrificing conversation for mere email connection, I too lament the flight from conversation. I commented that being at my laptop feeds the pleasure center of my brain, as any addictive substance would. After I have been out for the day, my heart races to return home and check my email.
I am not part of the walk-and-text culture. I’m barely part of the text culture. As a writer, who lives alone, it’s my laptop that has become one of my best friends.
I still talk on the iPhone, mostly to dear ones who live afar. Indeed, those iPhone convos are more satisfying and memorable than email.
All of this makes me think of my friend, Louisa, who—like me—lives alone; she makes it a point to call at least one person every day.
Louisa saw my comment in on the New York Times Website and emailed me her system for keeping in touch. Fascinated by how effective and detailed her method is, I want to share it with you:
My rule is I have to speak on the phone to at least one non-family-member friend every day. If a friend calls me and I answer the phone, that works.
A few resolutions of the gray areas:
(1) Speaking into someone’s voice mail fulfills the requirement. However, I allow voice mail messages for no more than three days a week.
(3) Colleagues count as friends only if I feel close to them and they have voluntarily given me their cell phone numbers. I have four people in that set.
(4) If I do more than one call a day I can carry over the second call for the next day’s credit, but I can do a carryover no more than once a week.
Call me crazy but it works. One of the best lifestyle decisions I’ve ever made.
On a related note, one evening I was at the symphony by myself and the woman next to me, another solo type, noticed I was on the iPhone all the time. She too said that devices are killing the art of conversing in public. I wanted to say that I wasn’t so bad because I was Googling bits of classical music trivia I wanted to know (Is Renee Fleming older than I? What operas did Handel write?), rather than typing emoticons to disembodied friends. But is that really better than texting or Facebooking? No.
Louisa’s method of connecting appeals to me not only for its quirkiness, but also for the human contact it provides; I am a pack animal, who—in addition to living alone—works alone. Still, I worry about keeping up with everyone I care about, a virtual impossibility without email.
My own rules for human contact are similar to Louisa’s, except I try to get together with someone in person each day: for a walk, dinner, therapy.
Sometimes I become overwhelmed with all those I’d like to remain in touch with; a mental picture emerges of my arms filled with more friends than I can hold, some spilling over, as if I were trying to carry more apples than the skirt of my apron could hold. When I have nothing scheduled, I walk with a friend via cell phone. (Does anyone talk on the phone without doing something else at the same time?)
There are those who are content with a handful of close friends. But I’m greedy. I hoard confidants, the way I’ve saved every letter I’ve ever received, except once when I was cleaning a closet more than a dozen moves ago and threw away armfuls of mail, which I regret.
I reflect on the dear friends I have accumulated since my divorce. Were I still married, I never would have had time to cultivate those friendships. Take Louisa, for example. We met biking on a Backroads trip, something I started doing after dissolving my nuptial vows.
How do you manage to keep in touch? Anyone out there who single tasks while talking on the phone?
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