Friday, August 30, 2013

Speaking Engagement

The week flew by again, even though it wasn't particularly eventful.  Classes started, so I'm back to the regimen I enjoy of teaching and reading and thinking.  Life as usual for a thinking prof.

My cat barfed on the windowsill at 4:00 a.m.  Other than that, a pretty uneventful week.

It was, however, marked by irony.  Apparently, I am no longer used to wearing pants.

I was home the other day and the phone rang, so I dashed to get it.  In my dash, I somehow caught the toes of my left foot in the cuff of my right pant leg, and I went flying across the living room.

I totally bashed my knee.  But yes, I answered the phone, and no, I wasn't howling in pain, although it did hurt quite a bit.  Today, it hurts a bit more than it did yesterday, actually, and I've finally given up and taken some Advil so I'm not limping.

I've decided that I need to make peace with the fact that 1) I am a klutz, and 2) a broken hip WILL happen to me someday, it's just a question of when.

The irony in all of this is that I rarely talk on the phone anymore, unless it's to gab with my best friend.  And this may be part of the reason why I have started going incommunicado on my blog for a week at a time.  (That, and the fact that I'm just busy with a whole bunch of other writing projects and committee-work.)

Because I find I've also seriously curtailed the amount of time and energy I'm willing to spend on email.

A couple of years ago, I read a book by William Powers, Hamlet's Blackberry (2010).  In it, Powers looks at how technology has changed the world we live in, and how in some ways it has not: we have trends that are analogous to those of Shakespeare's time--hence, the title, "Hamlet's Blackberry."

In particular, Powers thinks about the way that what we have defined as "a good life" has changed in the wake of digital technology and hyper-connectedness, and how we have to begin thinking of ways to carve out time that doesn't entail such hyper-connectedness.

Powers' book is an easy read, but it also offers much food for thought, and I found that, months after I'd read it, I was making minor changes in my methods of interacting with others that have, in the long run, changed the way I connect with others.

I used to like the phone as a way of staying in touch with friends.  I still do, but I've also noticed that many of my friends don't use the phone all that much anymore or, if they do, they screen calls and revert to text messages instead.

I don't text people.  I'll text someone only if it's an I'm-on-the-road-and-this-is-an-important-little-piece-of-information-you-have-to-have text that isn't worth a phone call.  To me, to use it otherwise is like chit-chatting when you can't be bothered to even be in the same room with the person you're chit-chatting with.  I find it kind of annoying, actually.

I think texting hits a nerve in my introverted psyche.  I like meaningful conversation, although I'm obviously aware of the need for chit-chat as a way of maintaining relationships on a daily basis.  Not all conversations can be meaningful, but they should still be conversations.   

Texting isn't a conversation, really.  It's a way to avoid an actual conversation, for whatever reason--because you don't have time to call or talk or because what you have to say isn't all that important or because you aren't really all that interested in talking to the person on the other end.

I also don't tweet.  I'm just not a sound-byte kinda girl, I guess.  I like somewhat meatier fare when I'm interacting with people.

Quite frankly, I tend to feel that texting and tweeting are two of the most enormous and pointless wastes of time a person can indulge in.  And if I'm going to waste time, I'm going to waste it on something I enjoy doing.

It particularly bothers me that people no longer have any qualms about sitting right across from you, texting someone else, when you've made plans to spend time with them.

It's NEVER that important.  If a person is ill, injured or dying, you'd better not be texting.  Go to them, or call, and I assure you, I'll understand.

If it's chit-chat, it can wait, and meanwhile, you're letting the actual, living, breathing human being across from you know that anything and anyone is currently more important than they are.

Personally, I end up not wanting to sit across from that person anymore, and I generally act accordingly.

After the friend-fiasco I endured a couple of years ago, I realized that many of the dramas and dilemmas that occurred in that situation stemmed from the way in which email and social media were used-- on all sides of the table.

No one ever wanted to just sit down, talk it through, and settle it, once and for all.  Instead, things were left vague, suspended on casual behind-the-scene emails or odd Facebook exchanges, and never actually dealt with openly and honestly, so that all the people involved knew where they stood and what was going on.

I found myself engaged in exchanges I didn't want to have, that I had never wanted to have and that I never expected to have, but lo and behold, I opened my Facebook or my blog or my email and ... BAM.  There they were.  And I was expected to respond, somehow.  When I tried to actually talk to people--because yes, I did pick up the phone and give it a whirl--there was, in the words of the immortal Phil Collins, "no reply at all."

I felt compelled to resort to similar kinds of electronic communications, which resolved nothing, and when the stress and anger built up about all of it, I finally just exploded and blogged.  And raged.  And blogged.

I had to say it all to someone, and no one who was involved would talk it through and work toward a resolution.  "Talk" had to take place over email, and I was not supposed to "talk" on my blog.  At the end of the day, I ended up feeling like it was just a huge power-play: you'll talk when and how we decide you'll "talk," and then you'd better not say anything. 

I think this often happens, because I've since seen many, many other people do similar things on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.  They talk into the void, because they have something to say about an emotional need, and they need to say it.  They hope someone will hear.  But when the people they've repeatedly tried to actually talk to "hear" it by opening social media and seeing the words, they're angry.

They feel their trust has been betrayed.  But trust can't happen over email.  Or on Twitter.  Or Facebook.  Two people have to be in a room together and talk, if trust is going to be established and maintained.  Technology was never meant to be used as a means of establishing something so important.

In my own case, things just went in circles until I was beyond sick of it all.  I woke up one morning and said, "OK.  That's it.  Done.  Gone.  See ya.   Buh-bye."  I walked out and never looked back.  I was thrilled to know that no one was ever going to actually try to talk to me, so if I simply announced I was unplugging from it all, no longer willing to communicate via email, and then stuck to my guns, that would end it.

And I made sure I told people exactly how I felt, using the only medium they had left available to me.  Be careful what you wish for.

I had realized, I think, that I was the only one seriously bothered by this whole way of (not) "communicating" and that others were actually benefiting from the situation.  They never had to actually confront (or be confronted about) the things they were saying and doing. 

Other people I know are more casual about such things.  They just shake it off, acknowledge that the people who behave that way are "assholes," but they maintain a polite exterior, even though they don't trust them and don't care about them at all.

They're not the person's friend either, but they don't care if the other person knows it or not. 

I think bad experiences should teach you something about yourself.  Your mistakes should be one-time affairs, if at all possible.  I left that situation with a very clear sense that it had been a bad experience all around, for everyone involved, and that personally, I wasn't going to make those same mistakes again.  Or let any of it change what I value and look for in other people. 

In that situation, trust was gone.  The willingness to communicate was gone.  Never in my life have I had a pair of "friendships" implode in such ugly, ugly ways, with so much anger and mess. 

When I look back now, I'm just glad I got out.  That's all I have left of that brief period of my life: a wondering feeling of "what the HELL happened there?" and a sense of sheer relief.  I'm out.  Thank god.  Never again.

When the dust settled, I began to take stock of the role I had played in all of the mess, because I had played a role, obviously, and I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I wouldn't ever do again and why.  And as I took stock, one of the things I realized was that I had actually adjusted my life so that I wouldn't be drawn into a situation like that again.

I've never again felt the need to blog about a personal relationship gone wrong.  And I've had personal relationships go wrong since that time--as had happened before that time.  But I realized that none of these were conducted over email or Facebook, either while they were ongoing or while they were unraveling, so I never felt that I hadn't talked to and been listened to by the people involved.

And that made a huge, HUGE difference in the outcome, I think.

As a result, our friendships didn't end.  This was really eye-opening to me. As time went on, I found myself using Facebook less and less.  I finally just decided, when I got the new "privacy policies," that it's ridiculous.  There's no "privacy" on Facebook: they don't even enforce their own supposed "security" policies, I've found.   So I deleted my account.

I did this once before, in 2010, when I found myself dealing with all kinds of drama and chaos stemming from my presence there, but I went back.  But since that time, several of my friends have left Facebook themselves, and I started wondering why I was on it.

Many of the people I care about and have stayed in touch with for years don't use it.  They don't have Facebook accounts at all.  This says a lot.

In the end, I think that Powers is right when he concludes,
Technology makes the world feel smaller than it really is.  There are all kinds of rooms in all kinds of places.  Every space is what you make it.  But in the end, building a good life isn't about where you live.  It's about how you decide to think and live. (240)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."