the unwanted advance of Social Media

I had the great pleasure of a long phone conversation with a new friend today. We get along so well because we value “real” and are very direct people. What do I mean by direct you ask? If you’re wearing an ugly hat don’t ask us if we like your hat. We should both have tee shirts that read “are you sure you want me to answer that?” You get the point.

We got onto the subject of social media today. We discussed the pitfalls of easy access, the danger of stalkers and trolls, and the evaluation process when accepting or ignoring friend requests. My friend and I mostly agreed on what constitutes a “friend” and we shared some funny and not so funny stories about different people’s attempts to access our little online worlds. As we joked back and forth, once again I triggered myself. I really need to stop doing that.

A few years ago I got a friend request from “Sue”. I didn’t recognize her at first, the last name didn’t ring a bell. When I saw the friends list I saw my cousin Mike and I realized who it was. DELETE. A few days later I got another. DELETE. A few weeks later another. DELETE. My cousin’s ex-wife was not going to infect my Facebook. A few weeks and 2 DELETES later my cousin called. Mind you I hadn’t talked to him in months (long story). He wasn’t calling to say hi, he wanted to know why I wasn’t accepting “Sue’s” friend request. “You’re joking right?”

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“Not at all, why.”

“Because we went almost 6 years without speaking because of her. Why would I want to talk to her now?”

“Let it go.” Yeah, not my style. He doesn’t get it, he never will

It all started in the late 80’s. Mike and his new girlfriend Sue asked me to go to an amusement park in Western, MA (now a Six Flags) with them. I had hung out with them a few times before this, Mike and I were very close so it wasn’t unusual for him to invite me along. Mike was smitten with Sue, me not so much. I found her to be selfish, immature and smothering.  But it wasn’t about me, it was his life. He had a wonderful combination of good heart and low self-esteem that predestined him to marry the first girl who touched his dick.

We walked into the entrance of the enormous park, Mike looked really happy. We headed towards the largest attraction only to realize that Sue had dropped off a few yards back. We quickly found her on a bench. She looked miserable. He immediately asked her what was wrong. To which he was met by a “nothing”. He persisted to ask what happened and she continued to not answer him. A “fine” (the dreaded word to any man) would have been a welcome relief. Finally, she got off of the bench and trudged alongside my hapless cousin. I wasn’t playing her bullshit games, I ignored her. Later that day, when Sue was doing some collectible shopping, Mike pulled me aside and said “you’re not going to believe what that was about”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“We walked past a popcorn stand and I didn’t think to stop and get her some.”

Wow, I thought to myself. It’s so much worse than I thought! Always the compassionate one I said “She’s not here right now. Run, don’t walk.”

He thought I was kidding.

We got through that day and many others. He eventually proposed. She, of course, said yes. Mike and I were having drinks a few days later. The waiter had just dropped off a fresh round. Mike watched him walk off, leaned back in his chair, looked at me and asked: “what do you think about Sue?”

“What do you mean, what do I think?” I asked him quizzically. “What does it matter, I’m not marrying her.” I was hoping that I would end it there. I wouldn’t be so lucky.

“Cut the shit. Tell me what you think.”

“Don’t make me say it.”

“Say it.” He leaned in and met my eyes.

“She’s a fucking bitch and she’s going to ruin your life!” I blurted.”Happy?” Instantly relieved yet mad at myself. I was waiting for the punch. We had beaten the snot out of each other more than a few times. Bracing for a table full of drinks and a 185-pound cousin landing in my lap, I instead saw before me a perfectly calm guy.

“I’m sorry Mike, I love ya cuz. I’m just thinking about you. Not trying to be an ass.”

In the end, it didn’t make a difference. They got married, I was an usher. I slept with one of her bridesmaids (the streak was intact). I managed to keep it together until about a year later when I was visiting them and their new baby. Sue was being exceptionally bitchy and demanding of Mike. He was exhausted from trying to please her and care for the baby and she was acting like a petulant child. After watching Mike offer to make her different dinners only to be met with indifference and attitude I spoke up. In not so many words I lashed out at her for treating him so poorly. I may have mentioned something along the lines of “like I called it” which wasn’t helpful. Mike, against the wall, had to make a decision and he chose to throw me out. I welcomed the cold air in my face to the cold air coming from that bitch.

We wouldn’t speak for 6 years, when he divorced her. I had been right, but I wasn’t happy about it. She ruined the guy. Mike and I really aren’t the same but we are friendly. We have rules now, one is we don’t talk about Sue. So when he asked me to accept her friend request it brought back a lot of memories.

This ties in with the social media thing as such. Who do you have on your Facebook? I only have family, school classmates, co-workers past and present and a very select few that mean enough to me to follow their lives. I certainly have no room for someone who threw me out of her house many years ago, nor do I think it’s appropriate for someone else to advocate on her behalf. I would like to think that I have some say in whom I interact with.


on Communication

I fondly remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a young boy, watching her do her letters. She was extremely structured and she always made sure to make time for the highlight of her day, the mail. When she heard the stuttering engine of the mail truck driving away she would hurry to the mailbox, eagerly hoping for a letter from a relative in California or a friend from High School. More often than not, she would get one. She would then sit down at the little round table in her tiny kitchen, with a steaming cup of tea and excitedly read her mail. She loved to relay to me the adventures of this uncle or aunt or friend or friend of a friend and give me the backstory. I didn’t know any of these people but it was nice to listen to her stories. She would then break out her stationary box, select the proper letter and matching envelope and write a response. That response would be in her mailbox that night, with the flag raised for the mailman to pick up the next day. On average it would take 8-10 days to get a response. This was the way she communicated, if she couldn’t see them in person then it was a letter. She hated the phone. She liked letters, and cards, she could keep them and reread them at a later date. When she died I recovered thousands of letters in her attic. Along with hundreds of letters from my grandfather to her when he was in the Pacific during WWII.

To look back on this now, it is a fond memory but seems as technologically advanced as loading a wooden ship with mail and then sitting in the Widow’s Walk waiting to see sails on the horizon. I can’t imagine the patience it required, but I can relate to the excitement when it arrived.

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We have lost that in today’s lightning fast world. This is obviously good and bad. It is good because we need to get certain information quickly and efficiently. But with regards to interpersonal communication, we have lost the excitement and have zero patience. In all of the rush to “shoot a text. fire off an email. Leave me a voicemail, Facebook me, Inbox me, Face-time or Snap Chat each other we have created a culture of immediate gratification. We call it “Ghosting” if someone doesn’t respond immediately as if there is malice or wrongdoing behind it. We misread intentions and tones behind texts which lead to massive misunderstandings and try to express complex emotions with emoji’s. In addition, and perhaps most tragic, is that in all of the abbreviations and cutesy shortcuts we take we’ve lost the ability to actually talk to each other. We are killing our language. It is perhaps fortuitous that our President speaks at a 4th-grade level and in short sentences. Many of us can’t understand a higher level and if we can we lack the attention span and patience to comprehend it.

I fear for those who never learn the complexities and benefits of language skills. Of eye contact. Of the handshake. I cringe for the job applicant that is unable to properly state his worthiness because of a lack of language skills, the knowledge of body language and posture. Things that someone who spends time talking to actual people, not screens, would know about.

My Grandmother read a letter 3 times before she took pen to paper. Her response required careful contemplation. ( To not be misread or misunderstood meant as much to her on paper as it did if they were in front of her in her cozy kitchen, at her small table, drinking tea and eating Lorna Doone’s.

At this moment I have 1,129 unread emails in my inbox. I just heard my phone ping repeatedly so I likely have some texts. I hope that there is something in there that will motivate me to make a cup of tea, sit and really contemplate the contents, inspire me to share it with my family, print it out and store it in the attic for enjoyment at a later date. It really is doubtful. I swear, the farther we advance the farther we fall behind.