Pat brought up a point in response to my post about friends around the world that I really think merits further thought. So many people have become dependent on social media for their relationships that we forget that social media is not always a bad thing, that it may not serve to isolate rather than bring together. It can be a way for those who are isolated, house-bound, disabled to be able to connect with others.
If you haven’t read Tom Standage’s “The Victorian Internet”* I might suggest you borrow it from your local public library and peruse it. He makes the point that our methods of written communication have changed, but Western Society as a whole had a long standing history of communicating in written format. For anyone who reads any fiction at all set in Edwardian, Georgian, or Victorian England, sending notes and letters was just as common a task as managing household accounts. Because of distance, most wrote letters. Your friend from school? You communicated by letter with them over holidays and vacation periods. Announcements? They went by post. Invitations? The same.
We seem to have a natural inclination to want to share thoughts, feelings, and knowledge with others. Mostly by the written word, as it isn’t time dependent on reaching the other person at the exact moment we have the thought. It will be there, waiting for them when they have time. But that element of time has changed as well. When communication was routinely by letter and post, unless you lived city center in a major metropolis (read NYC, London, Rome, Paris, Frankfurt) you did not expect a reply back the same day. If the distances were greater, you automatically added in round trip postal transport time for your letter.
Now? It seems like everyone wants an instant response to whatever method of communication is attempted. Rarely, anymore does anyone pick up the phone. Rather, send off a text or email. I am discounting snapchat, twitter, instagram and Facebook for the moment since those are “toss it out there and see if anyone responds” methods of attempting communication. Personally, I don’t view those as communication methods since they are not really targeted and an answer is optional.
All those years of radio and television which occupied the intervening years between the development of more instant methods of communication and the present did change everyone’s mind set. Rather than actively controlling one’s time, increasingly people became passive consumers of whatever was put out. Watching is not the same as reading. Seeing is not the same as creating character voices and actions in one’s own mind when reading Agatha Christie vs. watching a BBC production.
But those intervening years were hard on those home bound. Yes, entertainment came to them via radio and TV, but it did not come with human interaction. People would pick up a telephone rather than send a note or an invitation. At first this change could be viewed simply as an economic barrier, but it rapidly expanded to the point where, if you could not communicate on a phone, you were going to be excluded. Think of everyone with hearing or speaking impairment, those with mobility challenges such that reaching that phone in a reasonable time was not an achievable accomplishment.
Fast forward (see, a VCR term) to today. There are those who are unable to handle direct human interactions and might well have functioned much better in a society with strict structural behavior norms and codes. But I honestly believe that those individuals are a rarity. Rather, the modern, although occasionally annoyingly immediate forms of electronic communication, while perhaps bombarding us to the point of overload, also provide for some individuals in our society, their only window on the world. The only method by which they may become a productive and self-valued member of society. Amazon (Amazon, Audible) no matter some of their faults, provides a significant amount of customer service through individuals, who by working out of their homes, can have gainful employment. You don’t have to hear to be able to answer a chat, resolve a request for a return of an electronic book or audiobook.
So Pat’s point is well taken. The same methodologies which bombard us with trivia and may push people into superficial relationships also offer others a chance to have friends, to connect, and to live full lives even without the ability to leave home, drive a car, or travel the world.
*I referenced a book of his about this time last year when I went on a rant about lawyers, and the total misappropriation of words and misuse in the English Language. Should you be a native speaker of a different language, I am sure that you would be able to find parallels. Not sure why you would try, but there it is