When I was a toddler, I made my mother cry. I took a pair of scissors to a pink doily and cut it into shreds. The doily had been a gift from my mother's childhood pen pal in Sweden.
A couple of months ago, I started playing Words with Friends. At first, my only opponents were a small handful of locals I see around town. Recently, however, I started a game with Ellen, a woman I met on my bike tour in Bhutan. Ellen is a delightful woman, one with whom I could share a wonderful friendship. The problem is that I'm here in Valdez and she's way, way far away in Vermont. (Insert sad face here.)
Over the course of the two or three games Ellen and I have played so far, we've taken advantage of the chat option to communicate a bit, mostly comments on the game, but occasionally other, more personal, asides. I found myself thinking how it felt like I was really talking with Ellen and getting to know her better. I had to shake my head at myself. Really, how could exchanging comments on how I only had vowels to work with or how she knew I was going to play "zoo" on her "zip" count as a conversation?
I find myself thinking about my electronic relationships more often lately. I read a number of blogs (mostly ones by women), and the more I read these blogs, the more I feel like I know the people writing them. I begin to feel as if we have a personal connection, and as if they should feel the same way about me. The same is true of people I knew decades ago and with whom am now Facebook friends.
Of course, such a feeling of relationship is delusional. I don't really think it's possible to truly know someone you've never physically spent time with, or even haven't in many years. In stories I've heard or read about couples who've met through the internet, it seems that no matter how much communication has occurred, even with video possibilities such as Skype, there's still a nervousness and uncertainty that exists until the two have met in person. Whether you're lovers or friends, physical chemistry is real and makes a difference.
In the case of Ellen and me, we met in person in Bhutan, shared a room for several nights, cycled many miles together, and had opportunities to converse at length. I'm confident in calling her a friend with whom I'd like to spend more time. Nonetheless, while we might deepen our friendship through written communication, it's going to take more than just Facebook posts and game comments.
I find it interesting the bad rep electronic communication has obtained in recent years. Experts complain that people are forgoing real personal communication in favor of sending texts and e-mails. As a result, we are saying things to each other that we would never consider saying in person. I wonder, however, how these communications differ from those between pen pals in the "olden days."
It used to be considered a wonderful thing to have a pen pal, an opportunity to get to know someone who live far away and led a different lifestyle. I'm sure this is how my mother considered her friendship with her Swedish pen pal. Needless to say, snail mail letters did not allow one the opportunity to dash off and immediately send a soon-to-be-regretted response to an off-hand remark. Writers instead pored over their letters, considering what to say that would be interesting to the reader and would not reflect negatively on the writer.
Ah, perhaps that's the key in this world of instant communication: consider what you're saying, make sure it's pertinent to your reader(s), and only communicate those things which make you look good, too. Honesty and compassion should be paramount in all that we do, but it's so much easier to ignore them when the recipient of your remarks is not sitting in front of you.
I realize I've rambled on a bit with all of this, not a hallmark of great communication, but I hope I've given you something to think about. Please feel free to point out to me when I'm being unkind in my communications, and don't be offended if I do the same for you. Hopefully, we'll both take the time to think before we type, and such reminders won't be necessary.