Ever read Ellen Goodman? She is a columnist for the Boston Globe, and on July 2, her editorial was entitled "If you're 'outsourcing' friendship, you're not alone"
Apparently she and I had the same "mull" this past week: The Duke University study entitled Social Isolation in America.
That was the study I blogged about last week, the one that noted that most people now have only two people in their lives with whom they discuss important matters.
In it she decried those who have outsourced their "friendship" (those with whom important things are discussed) to "professional therapist, and, gawd help us, talk shows".
She also noted, as did I, that technology has changed the way we used relationship time. And that people are increasingly both in-touch and isolated.
"It's become easier to keep extensive relationships over time and distance but harder to build the deep ones in our back yard. In the virtual neighborhood, how many have substituted e-mails for intimacy, contacts for confidants and Face-book for face to face?"
The truth as I see it is that drop by/over the fence relationships are rare (although I DO have a lovely neighbor family who do actually drop by with their too-cute-for-words year old son.) Most people that I know would very seriously hesitate to just "drop by" to discuss/explore what is on their mind, for fear of throwing a wrench into a presumed tightly compressed daily agenda.
Most will no longer make a phone call either. If they do call, and actually get someone, they often apologize for calling, saying they meant only to leave a message.
There are those who will routinely drop an email with cute animal pictures, pretty thoughts, or earnest warnings of dire scenario, with nary more than a four word intro such as:
"This is really funny!"
A few other people attempt to keep the warmth of friendship at a pleasant glow via emails and cards with this level of intimacy:
"How r you? We r fine. The weather is hot. We went to my cousin's baby's b-day party. They had cake and ice cream. We are really busy, so I'd better go".
(Reading such missives puts me into a time warp, sending me back to elementary school letter writing units, reliving memories of struggling to end the letter. Is it "sincerly" or is it "sincerely" or "your's truely/truly? A ticklish problem, thank Word for spell check.)
The fact that such notes are sent at all keeps us in a finger touch of relationship.
Delightfully, a few friends are able to express themselves brilliantly in writing. I experience the fervor of their joys, the anguish of their trials, and the haunting heaviness of their relational or career enigmas. It is a joy to read their considered thoughts as an electronic elixir which is splashed before me only after they have refined the mix of phases, words, spacing, and font, in order to convey that which they have edited, rethought, and now wish to entrusted to me.
They write fully, and deeply. And mercifully, by expressing themselves electronically, they do not have to regroup against blurted comments or unguarded facial expression from me. Written response are more thoughtful, as an outcome of allowing the time for choice words and phrases to form. It may be minutes, or hours, or a day or two before the right words are sent back. But the words and phrases, and the friendship is often much richer than could or would expressed comfortably face to face.
I will be e-mailing Goodman about her suggestion that email is a substitute for intimacy. Email is what you make it. The level of intimacy always floats with the level of communication. If the ability to discuss important matters is the definition of intimacy, then shouldn't it be the communication, and not the media, that counts?