Red Light

Before Instagram. Before Snapchat. Before Oovoo, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, MySpace or email, there was the telephone.

In 1986, twenty-three years old, I took a business trip. Two weeks in Denver for training on a workplace population tracking program. I worked for the mega-firm TRW. A government contractor with tens of thousands of employees. So many employees, a mainframe computer was needed to keep track of where we all were. Part of my job was to input and monitor which government contracts a few dozen employees would support over the coming months. I was a tiny cog in a very large wheel. But still, I needed training. Two weeks of training.

I’m left with clear (but pathetic) memories of this trip. Six packs chilled in my bathroom sink. Propping my back uncomfortably against a couple of pillows on the queen-sized mattress. Hours spent reading or watching TV. Daily visits to the hotel’s small, first-floor fitness center—trying to cobble together my split-system weightlifting regime. A weekend train-trip to a lonely day of skiing on my own. Undoubtedly, others in my training session were gathering for dinner and drinks, but in unfamiliar environments, I wall myself in. It’s a protection mechanism.

Returning to my room after my day of training, or after my fast-food dinner, or my beer-run, I would immediately look to the telephone. If someone called, a red light would indicate that I had a message. Not a voice mail, but an actual handwritten message at the hotel reception desk. I could dial down to the operator and find out who called.

Two weeks is a long time to be isolated from friends. I lived for that red light.

People complain about the lack of true connection in our current social media fueled relationships. Those people should consider how connected we were in the old days. In a different time zone in a world made up of land-lines.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the topic of friendships, my blog can be confusing. In one post, I’ll claim to have no friends whatsoever. My next post will talk about my interactions with specific friends.

What’s the deal?

Welcome to social anxiety: where relationships are over-thought and insecurity reigns.

When does a relationship qualify as friendship? My coworkers: we joke, we commiserate, but we don’t hang out. My random smattering of acquaintances around town: we’re friendly when we run into each other, we’re connected on Facebook, but we don’t actually socialize. Truthfully, I have actual friendships—people I meet, with my wife or on my own, for dinner, or a hike, or a cup of coffee. But between these get-togethers, it’s like they don’t exist—they’re not in my thoughts. I can’t remember that they’re there.

When I interact with others, my tendency—my comfort zone—is to keep conversations on a surface level. When topics extend beyond small talk, my brain freezes, I get tongue-tied; I can’t think of anything to say.  Social anxiety is isolating.

But when I’m able to correspond with a person, my relationships flourish. In written conversations, I become the friend that I want to be. When I have time to craft my thoughts, I’m able to say what I really feel.

In this electronic age of written social media, I should be blossoming. But most social media platforms overwhelm me. Twitter reminds me of a gathering where everyone talks at once. Facebook is like walking into a big, raucous party—large-group interactions where quick, witty rejoinders rule. These aren’t venues for in-depth conversation. When I’m so inclined, I can write witty rejoinders. I can offer the appearance of friendliness. But any relationships forged through social media fall apart in person. I’m too shy to keep the conversation going.

Is WordPress social media? It is for me. The pace, the expectations on WordPress are more in-line with my personality. It’s a place where true conversations can happen. The bloggers I’ve met through WordPress, we share in the minutia of each other’s lives—artfully so. We prop one another up with likes and comments. I can give my opinion and get a response. When do these bloggers count as friends? I feel like I’ve known some of them for years.

lightWhen I turn on my computer, I’m looking for the red light. Just like my hotel telephone, WordPress tells me when someone has left a message. Someone has reached out to me because we share an interest. The red light is a beacon to a less lonely world. It’s a symbol of belonging, a symbol of friendship. Proof that someone cares.

The more I consider it, the more inclined I am to invest in my WordPress relationships. The person I am in the comment section of a blog-site is the person I’ll always be. I’ll never see these people in real life. I’ll never screw up my friendship by being awkward, by seeming aloof. I’ll continue to share, to comment, and I’ll continue to learn about the bloggers I follow.

21 thoughts on “Red Light

  1. I love this. Very honest for those who may not understand social anxiety. And I agree with you on WordPress relationships! There is a different benefit here than any other social media. That of finding like minded people. There’s so much less ‘posturing’ by everyone here as people are well…using their words, as they say! Lol

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey! Saw your post in the community pool! Really enjoyed it!

    I agree that WordPress is social media, but it is certainly unique in the depth of content and interactions usually prevalent.

    Anyway, thanks for exposing me to your blog! I’ll be sure to check back.

    -John

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s a little scary investing so much into red lights and comment notifications. It reminds me of how we can be manipulated by such things esp.with social anxiety. I like your writing style.You wrap several concepts around an idea.

    Like

    • Yes, it is scary and rather pathetic. That isn’t lost on me. At times I feel like I’m trying to nurture relationships that don’t exist. Writing is the way I understand my motivations, and this post was rather eye-opening for me.

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      • It isn’t pathetic. It’s human nature on a base level. If we are accepted we will survive and have companionship. if we are heralded for our works we will thrive and be beloved. It’s just that this can become a point system that leads us further from self acceptance.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I just want to point out that I was born in 1986! Also, that I know exactly what you mean about the world of social anxiety and living in the comments. It’s safer here!

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  5. I’ve always thought of myself as socially awkward or inept. I’m comfortable with a few people, but not many. When I came to WordPress, I didn’t understand that it’s a form of social media. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I’m ready to press the delete button on the whole thing. I feel just as awkward here as in the face-to-face world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally feel your pain. I’m becoming more comfortable with my social awkwardness. Sometimes I even come home and entertain my family with a story of how awkward I was in a conversation. Regardless, keep commenting. Comparatively, I don’t find you awkward at all.

      Like

  6. Wow, we sound like the same person! I still love getting letters in the mail. I love opening the mailbox to see if there is a letter inside – which rarely happens. Thankfully my bestie loves the same thing, so we write each other occasionally. I have a huge dislike of the phone though. And I am more myself in my writing than in any face to face interaction. In order to get married I had to work through a social anxiety workbook – gosh – everyone loves their wedding day. All I wanted was for it to be over. I was going to write a piece about social anxiety vs autism – because I am very socially awkward. If I do not appear awkward, just know I am trying REALLY HARD on the inside to keep my Sh** together. But I can read social cues and I can socially interact appropriately. And some friends may say, “You? Socially awkward? Nah…” I still beat myself up over conversations I feel like I messed up in high school, let alone yesterday. I also love my wordpress connections! It is so nice to connect with others who have a similar interest. Great piece!

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    • I find that socializing (for me) takes practice. The less I socialize the worse I get at it, so I have these mild peaks and deep valleys of connection with people. I felt like having small children was fairly isolating, and my ability to sustain relationships has never rebounded. Distance running doesn’t help.

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      • I agree – the less I socialize the worse I am too – I find myself in a conversation and wondering, “what am I supposed to say?” over and over again. Distance running is my favorite “I don’t have to talk” time – but no, it is definitely not social time (at least not for me)

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve had a few very intense conversations lately about what constitutes a “friendship” just like the thoughts here. I feel closer to some of the people on WP who grant me the privilege of letting me into their lives than some people I’ve known for 30 years. I believe unless you’re actively involving yourselves in each others lives, you’re merely acquaintances or people who used to be friends. I never subscribed to that stupid meme “no matter how long apart, it’s the same when we get together” bullshit. But then… I broke up with social media and memes in my daily life. If we don’t make an effort to check in, we’re not really friends. Stop pretending otherwise. That little bell on my WP from someone I mutually admire and respect but will probably never meet feels so much more authentic somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I, too, have ditched facebook (again, but I’m guessing for good). I just can’t keep up with the stream of commentary. It actually makes me feel less connected to people because I feel like I’m ignoring them. In prepping for this essay, I reviewed my follow history. I’m a bit shocked at the blogger attrition that has gone on in the past year. Almost all of my early follows are long gone and done posting.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I thought this was a great post, WordPress is a more comfortable social media platform than Facebook or Twitter for me. I really like the community of people I have “met” through the comments here on WordPress.

    Liked by 1 person

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