A FEW MONTHS AGO, a friend I’ve known for 30 years decided to call it quits, severing our relationship over the phone. “I don’t know you. And you don’t know me,” she said, her words as sharp and crisp as a subfreezing New England day. Stunned, I pondered her accusations. Apparently an off-the-cuff remark I made after dinner one night left her seething.
“I don’t have time for 40-minute phone calls,” I had said. Or so she says I said, and I’m not about to argue. That sounds like me. I mean, who has time for such a luxury? I barely have time to answer e-mails and texts and do chores and work, never mind settling down for a nice long chat.
“And what really galls me,” she added, “is that I know you spend hours on Facebook talking to people you don’t even know . . . when I can count on one hand the times we’ve gotten together on our own.” Then she hung up.
Ah, social media. The great divide. I have friends who use it and friends who don’t. Though I don’t criticize those who avoid it, I feel they are missing a great way to communicate in this busy world. My friend often complained that she didn’t see photos from my recent travels, and I didn’t hear about her summer in Italy. She wanted a phone call or chatty e-mail report or, even better, to get together for mutual storytelling.
In a perfect world, I would love that. Don’t get me wrong, I can — and I do — share dinner and stories with friends, though I admit that 30 years ago I had more time for such things. Now I find it more efficient, and fun, to share experiences on Facebook with friends old and new, and — yes — even people I don’t know. In my defense, I don’t spend hours at a time on it; I hop on and hop off, when my brain needs a break from work, when I’m waiting in line, and at other random moments.
“It sounds like your friend hasn’t made the technological leap that you have. She’s living in another time,” said my pal Amy, who then shared a story about a rift in her family. Amy’s niece wants her father — who moved far away — to download Skype as a way to visit with his grandchildren. He bristles at the suggestion, refusing to engage with the new technology. His daughter is hurt and doesn’t understand his response. “He wants me to talk on the phone for an hour. I don’t have that kind of time,” she told Amy.
This got me thinking about the fast-paced changes in communications in the last century. On Downton Abbey, we saw the telephone’s arrival after World War I and the way it usurped the traditional mail and telegraph. I imagine people of that era asking, “Why do you use that newfangled contraption?” Fast-forward 100 years, and you can easily insert the words Skype, Twitter, and Facebook in the question.
These days, I read how social media is changing the way the younger generation relates to the world, and not in a positive way. But the technology divide isn’t only age-related. What disturbs me is the way it can cause rifts where there were none. Once the genie is out of the bottle, though, we can’t stuff it back in. There must be a way to move forward, to communicate in ways that retain our humanity and grace.
I feel bad that my friend dumped me. Yet I don’t expect her to change her mind, or even to understand my point of view. After her call I did what anyone might do: I posted our spat on Facebook (leaving her name out), and 37 friends responded with words of encouragement. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but that felt pretty darned good.
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