Make Time: How Digital Communication is Turning Us Into Shitty Friends.

One of the things I find really interesting in the time-spending of some of the great minds in history is that many of them set aside time for “correspondences.” They would sit down for 1 or 2 hours of the day or evening to respond to letters, see visitors, make calls, etc. It’s such a quaint idea to me — Tchaikovsky, or Victor Hugo settling down at a desk with pen and paper, a stack of open letters to respond to and a list of others to write, and setting to it. When was the last time I even wrote a letter that wasn’t just a thank you card for a gift Linden had received?

Photo by Harry Rowed, from the Library and Archives of Canada on Flickr

Photo by Harry Rowed, from the Library and Archives of Canada on Flickr

Of course, things are different now. We don’t write letters so much as write emails, send texts, leave Facebook comments and the like. And with this digital form of correspondence, we are corresponding throughout the entire day.

But I think there’s really something lost in this modern method of correspondence. Sometimes, literally lost. With bulging inboxes, frequent pings, and so many scattered places where we conduct our relationships at a digital distance, there’s no pile of to-respond-tos to leaf through. It becomes really easy to neglect a correspondence, especially when a longer, more thoughtful reply is required, one that you can’t compose on the go.

This happened recently with a serious, personal message from one of my closest friends. I completely dropped the ball on getting back to her, and as a result, I hurt her. And I feel like shit for it.

*  *  *

I think at the heart of my admiration for the “correspondence” hour is not just the cozy vision of the desk and opened letters, but the idea that our relationships deserve our dedicated attention. All relationships take work. And when you live far away from friends and family, you have the added layer of having to put in a conscious and constant effort to keep in touch. It takes time.

As a mom, time for me has become very strange. So much of my waking day is focussed on another person, and I often feel like my day doesn’t start until Linden goes to bed. But there is still time there. I have managed to make time, if only one night a week, to write the self-styled life. Some nights, it takes a lot of effort to get out of the house when I’m exhausted and just wanting to become one with my couch. But it has become easier. It’s become a routine for me. An important one. My writing nights are sacred.

There’s no reason why other things that are important can’t similarly become normal routines, even within the limited extra-baby time I have. The reality is that some things must. Nurturing my relationships is definitely one of them. It’s not enough to have my phone in my back pocket at all times, checking it more often than is probably healthy. Even when it feels like there’s no time, I have to make time.

I knew there would be take-aways from studying how Charles Darwin, et. al. spent their days. You might think it’d be something deeper: reading serious literature or taking up a serious academic subject. But I’m thinking a “correspondence” evening is in order.

Zagreb clockMakeTime

Have you noticed this shift with the prevalence of digital communication? Do you have a system for managing correspondences with your family and friends?




5 responses to “Make Time: How Digital Communication is Turning Us Into Shitty Friends.

  1. I agree. I don’t do Facebook and all the other social media stuff, but I find that if I don’t respond to emails or even blog posts at the time I read them, I tend to forget, so I always respond right away – because who wants to feel like ‘shit’ when you don’t remember?

  2. Loved this post. Very true, all of it. As my kids are getting older and are moving on, I finally have more time to myself which I love, but I do remember the days when you are just waiting for bedtime to get a few things accomplished.

  3. Before I write my response, I will note that I am tired and there are annoying cartoon sounds blaring in my ear due to the fact that my boy is home sick! So, I completely agree with your ideas on the value of dedicating time to building relationships via correspondence. Since moving this past summer, I have completely neglected my friendships that were formed in my previous home. I truly love those people…they are some of my most cherished friends, yet something caused me to be uber lame in keeping in touch. For the first few months, it was an honest goodness sense of guilt for crying every time I got on the phone with them, or for writing blubbering emails about how lonely I felt. I felt bad about feeling bad…and that kept me at a distance. I know for a fact that all of those amazing people you mentioned in your post did not feel badly about bearing their soul to their friends in letters. They would lay it all out there in flowery and poetic imagery! Our new age of digital communication has isolated us emotionally…which is great for relationships based on humor, but not great for developing deeper relationships. I think we have lost the element of vulnerability in communication. Friendships should be the safest of places to bare one’s soul…where there is no fear of judgment or alienation. It should also be a place of known love and acceptance. However, a relationship can not get to that point without correspondence! So, I guess we just have to have faith in our friends that they will be trustworthy, while being prepared for disappointment. After all, being truly vulnerable is being open to the good, the bad and the ugly!

    • I agree with all of this! It is so hard moving. I have moved a lot in the years since college, and I have left a lot of friends here and there. It’s so tough, too, to make friends when you’re older, I find. Everyone seems to have friends already, or just be busy in their lives. It’s hard to break in sometime.

      I also agree about the superficiality of online relationships. I love that I’ve reconnected with some people via Facebook and the like, but I know that these relationships are of a particular variety. I’m still grateful for them, but they don’t substitute for the real soul-bearing friendships you’re talking about.

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