“Social” media?

Things usually come full circle.  Sometimes there’s a bit of a tweak the second, third or fourth time around – like when the clothing styles from the 70’s made a comeback but there were a few fashion updates – but in essence, the basics stay the same.  It just seems that we need to go through cycles of varying degrees as new things come along offering us a little bit of something we didn’t have before.


So I’ve been wondering a lot lately about social media and communication in our present day world, how it’s developed and where’s it’s headed, and what it has taken with it little by little along the way until we suddenly realize that we are back to where we started.

But first, I need to backtrack.

Seniors today will probably remember a time without telephones in every house when letter writing was the norm and mail took a long time to get from one place to another.  But I’m not a senior – yet – so my starting point is a little further on.  I do remember having only one rotary dial phone in the whole house.

I was a letter writer from a young age.  I was taught to write thank-you notes whenever someone sent a gift, and I had pen pals through an elementary school program.  I loved writing letters and getting replies and it was exciting to get mail addressed specifically to me.  I don’t remember being a “phone” person until I was a teenager and could spend an hour or two on the phone with a friend I had just said goodbye to after school.  How I did that, I’ll never understand because I’m definitely not much of a phone person now!  But it was a big deal then because it usually ended up causing some kind of issue when someone else needed the one and only phone.

Fast forward to the availability of extra phone lines, and the cordless phone, which allowed us to walk around the house, do dishes, laundry and cook all while chatting with a friend.  There was no more curling up on the floor under the wall mounted phone trying not to stretch out the cord; we could take the cordless phone out into the back yard and never miss a call.

We still wrote and received letters, though, and at Christmas, most people included a short note with their cards in their own handwriting and it was exciting to catch up on all the news from family and friends we didn’t see often during the year.  Then one day we got a photocopied Christmas letter.  My parents were not impressed, and I wondered – as a letter writer myself – why anyone would just write one letter and copy the same thing out to everyone as if we were all the same person with no individual relationships with the sender.  My mom continued to write personal notes and each year the photocopied ones grew in number.

Eventually, of course, once I was married and had gone through the rejection of the form letter to the pain in my hand as I wrote the same news to everyone, we developed our Walsh Christmas Newsletter, making it humorous, sarcastic, and something that would be fun to do.  We have a binder with a copy of each letter written over the years and it’s still fun to look back at them.

Then came the first cell phone.  I went shopping with a friend and came home our big black  Motorola flip phone (weighing in at about 5 pounds) and Pat shook his head.  I was generally the one who enjoyed technology; he used it as he needed to and I don’t think he would ever have used the word “enjoy” to describe his experiences….

Fast forward again to the internet and the onslaught of computers in many households. Our first desktop system had a whole 4 MB of RAM and a modem, which at that time was top of the line.  We had a printer and everything.  Now I could really fancy up that Christmas letter!  But the email idea was still a side show because most people we knew didn’t have computers and we used ours more for educational purposes.

Gradually email became a regular thing, our cell phone was upgraded to a smaller version with more bells and whistles (and then there were two) and we were staying on top of things, moving along in the changing world of communication.  But the regular mailbox wasn’t as full anymore, most of the envelopes had windows, and people started emailing Christmas letters instead of sending them in cards.

One day, I heard my kids talking about something called Facebook.  I couldn’t imagine what I would ever do with it myself, as it seemed to be for the younger set, and appeared to be replacing those long drawn out teenage phone conversations.  But because I wanted to learn and understand what was new and popular (and have a handle on what my kids were doing) I signed up and began my Facebook experience.

My new cell phone had a text feature on it and I wondered why people wouldn’t just call instead of working so hard to tap those annoying little keys just to say “hello there”.  And once I found out that it cost extra money every time a message went one way or the other, I made up my mind it wasn’t for me.

As often happens, though, life events threw me into a situation where my one constant means of communication was my cell phone, and I had to start using it every day, all day, for emails, calls, and eventually texts as I strove to keep in touch with family and friends from various hospital settings.  I became attached to it out of necessity and now it’s part of my life.  So I’m not immune to this shift from conventional communication to technological advancements that offer convenience and security in various situations.

Now I’ve noticed that emails are much less frequent as people are able to sign into Facebook daily and look at pictures and read snippets about what their friends and family are doing – all of which seemed very cool when it was first available but now makes me think that we’re losing out somehow.  The emails diminished gradually, to the point where the only messages I get anymore are things I’ve subscribed to and not from anyone I have a personal relationship with.

But more than that, even the Facebook communication has changed.  What used to be a place to read little things about a person’s day, something happy or something sad, or just something fun they shared, now seems filled mostly with “other people’s” stuff; by that I mean things that people on my list have liked or shared from other people’s posts, probably because they are only seeing these things too.  I enjoy using Facebook for buy and sell groups, sharing pictures and stopping to chat with someone I see online, so I’m not finding fault with it or with anyone who uses it.  I just rarely see a personal post anymore, and from the things I’m reading on the subject of social media, this appears to be a general experience, not just my own.

Yet this new lack of personal interaction hasn’t resulted in more emails, more phone calls, or more good old fashioned letters.  It’s like the personal communication has diminished altogether, while we have more and more means of engaging in it!  I can’t even wrap my mind around the need for Twitter, Linkedin, Google Plus or any other thing I’ve heard about that just sounds like more of the same.

So, back to my introduction at the top:  things go in cycles.  I wonder if we’re getting to the end of a cycle when we’ll eventually stop and realize that we’re more involved in the circulation of online information, jokes, articles etc. than we are in our actual personal relationships?  I wonder if these systems which seemed to make personal communication more convenient have in the process drained something from that communication and made our experiences superficial rather than real and personal?

Let’s face it unless you are sunshine and flowers every minute of the day – which I don’t believe anyway – you can’t say what you really want to say in a Facebook post or comment without it causing someone some kind of upset, whether you mean to or not.  And then we learn from those experiences to guard our words, hide our emotions, or at least cover them in some way so they don’t come across quite as truly as they are felt.  And if “communication” goes awry, we limit what people can see, or unfriend them.  The only really personal things we can say have to be in private messages anyway, which shows me that the Facebook world is a sort of front that can be useful in some ways for certain purposes, but that it should all be taken with a grain of salt.


I won’t be giving up my cell phone anytime soon, and I haven’t written a Christmas letter the past while because on one hand there just hasn’t been much happy news, and on the other, with all the Facebook stuff I doubt there’s anyone at all who doesn’t know what’s happening in my life!  But I admit I’ve been thinking that while it’s a fast and convenient way for me to catch someone online or share something, I don’t think Facebook is really helping me to stay “connected” with anyone at all.  I do think it’s showing me that real relationships are nurtured in personal ways, which for me might be getting back to basics.  I want to have real conversations about important things and to know the real side of others.  Social media has its place, but that isn’t it.  Just my two cents …

A Different Kind of Christmas

Nothing feels “right”.  It is like a twilight zone for me as I walk around stores and public places, experiencing all the Christmas lights, decorations, festive shoppers and music, and as I try to help make our home look and feel like it normally would at this time of year.  Sometimes I feel as though I’m walking around in a cloud of sorts, seeing and hearing things, knowing that the Christmas season is here, going through the motions but not really present in any of it because it’s happening outside of me.  Other times it hits me in the most unexpected moment and I am thrown right into the reality of Christmas without my husband, life without my husband.

The feeling of Christmas spirit in our house only came about little by little as we prepared ahead of time because Pat worked in retail and it was the busiest and most stressful time of year.  He wasn’t really able to feel festive himself until his last shift was over – usually on Christmas Eve – when he would come home happy, relieved, excited and ready for the celebrations to begin.  That was a marking point for us that it was finally time to let loose because Christmas was here. That annual “event” is as distinct in my mind as the reality of it never happening again.

It isn’t that I can’t buy gifts myself – I usually did most of the time – or continue to bake or cook or plan special things as we always did.  It is the hole; it’s the fact that he’s not here to share the fun with with me when I come home with a special gift for one of the kids, to help stuff stockings, to make us laugh with his unique humour.  It’s the fact that as I’m shopping and starting to enjoy myself, feeling festive, I see things that I would have bought for him, ideas that pop out and serve as sharp reminders that I no longer have a husband to shop for, leaving sadness where the spark of joy was.  It’s the absence of the fun in conversations leading up to Christmas when he would be trying to figure out what to buy for me, wanting to make sure it was something special and that it cost enough, because I was always practical and he wanted to spend more – he never wanted me to spend on him and never asked for anything, but always wanted to spend on me.

It’s the reminder that on the day of his accident we were just finishing taking down the Christmas decorations and putting things away before he left for work. And just as all of Christmas was being packed away, so our life as we knew it was going to come to a close;  a door would be shut that we would never be able to open again.  For me, everything about Christmas in my mind relates to “before”, and as each year goes by I am further and further away from “before”, from the door that shut.  I can still pull out the Christmas boxes and hang up the usual decorations collected over many years in our family.  I can make the house look bright and cheery and make it smell like gingerbread.  But the door is still shut.  Thus, the twilight zone.

Yes, there are happy moments.  Yes, we still laugh and yes, we will still play games, watch movies and make memories – and we will share memories from “before” and there will be tears, sorrow, and pain.  It will be a different kind of Christmas, but we’ll make it through.

Here is a video performance of a song I wanted to share, for us and for all who will be missing a loved one at Christmas this year.


Click here to view video