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.
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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.
When 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.