Keeping in Touch in a Disconnected World
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I for one prefer the telephone and old-fashioned letter writing, but I'm not above sending a detailed e-mail to my friends to update them on my life, or just to say hello and see what they are up to. After all, it is so easy for me to do, and friends love to hear from me, even if they don't get around to showing it.
Low Cost = Low Value
That is the biggest problem with modern forms of communication. It is so easy to send and receive correspondence that the act of corresponding loses its significance. When I write someone an e-mail, they know I didn't have to write everything out by hand, hunt down an envelope, pay an exorbitant 49c, and trek down to the mailbox to send it. All I did was sit at my desk and type out my thoughts. So it's probably not a huge deal and they don't need to reciprocate.
Or perhaps because it is so easy, they think it is something they will get around to when they have the time. "Well, it only takes me 5 minutes to send an e-mail, so I'll do it later today when I have a spot of free time. Right now I want to check my Facebook." Of course, they never get around to it because e-mails come and bury my note in their inbox, and soon, they have forgotten. I am guilty of this mentality (sorry, J), and am seeking to remedy it.
The truth is, humans thrive on real social connections. Even though social interaction nowadays is cheap, we still get a great feeling when we see our Facebook notifications all lit up. We still love to get social e-mail instead of newsletters, never mind the elation that comes with a snail-mail letter, stamped, postmarked, and enveloped. Simple notes and letters have become keepsakes.
So why are we so terrible at keeping in touch?
Don't Take it Personally
So many of my best friends are at a distance to me. My camp friends and my college friends mostly live in other states. We are connected on Facebook, but both parties seem content to passively participate in one another's lives, simply watching newsfeeds and, if we're feeling especially connected/lonely, clicking "Like".
And when I do send a message, there is no response. How many times have I called up old friends, only to reach their voicemail, leave a message, and never hear back? Do they not want to talk to me?
I've often wondered if it is only me that has trouble with keeping in touch with others. Even when I do reach out, I get so few replies as to make it a questionable use of my time. Others say that they have trouble too, but maybe they are simply saying that as an excuse. And then I remember books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as the biographies of some of the greatest individuals in our society. The men and women who are exceptionally successful are exceptional largely because they reach out to others tirelessly. This suggests to me that keeping in regular contact with others is a mark of an exceptional individual, not simply something that arises naturally. So, yes, it take deliberate action, and takes a lot of one-sided input before it starts to bear fruit, just like building a business, writing a book, or any other major project.
Think of keeping in touch as building your social network. It is a deliberate project. It can still be a pleasure to undertake, but you should approach it with the same tenacity as any other really important project in life, since the rewards are among the greatest you'll ever reap. We rarely put as much effort into building our social networks as we do into building our careers, yet it is the former which leads to better career success as well as greatly enhanced well-being and quality of life.
Someone Has to Make the First Move
I believe that most people are 'bad at keeping in touch', and that most people really wish they were better at it. I also believe that it is the duty of the Warrior Spirit to break the stereotype and seek out real human contact, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of their friends. We know that our friends like hearing from us (otherwise they wouldn't have been our friends in the first place), so we ought to rise above the nagging self-doubt that suggests their silence indicates our inadequacy. This is a selfish fear.
So I challenge you to reach out to three old friends today. Send them a real message of some sort. Make it meaningful. A phone call is best, but a detailed e-mail or FB message is alright too. Even a FB wall post that expresses some sincere connection rather than a silly internet video would be alright.
They might not get back to you, but you may rekindle an old friendship. Either way, I guarantee they will appreciate knowing that someone from their past was thinking about them.
Some tips to keeping in touch:
- Respond to personal e-mails right away: We tend to de-prioritize personal e-mails when in fact they are more important to our happiness. Don't let them get dragged into the depths of your inbox. Just respond right there if you have the time, or at least let the sender know you got their e-mail and will respond in more detail later. MAKE SURE TO FOLLOW UP!
- Specially mark personal correspondence: If the above tip doesn't fit into your method of sorting e-mail, set aside a special tag or folder for personal correspondence that you will definitely check. Alternatively, use a separate e-mail account for personal notes.
- Make a habit of checking up: One idea I've toyed with in the past is setting a schedule by which to reach out to people. Sunday afternoons would be a good time to sit down and write out 5 or 6 letters or notes. This ensures you give a good chunk of time to the task so that you can make it meaningful.
- Be a bit nosy: The word nosy has negative connotations, but in general, people really enjoy it when you take an interest in their lives, even if they don't have the time or inclination to share. If you show interest, they will respond.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt, but don't overdo it: I usually send two or three initial attempts at contact per response. If I don't get a response by that third letter, I give up on the relationship for the time being. If they respond, that resets the counter. This prevents me from wasting my time with friends who simply aren't going to reciprocate, but it also allows for the busy, distracted, and stressful lives we all lead.
- Keep it simple: Short texts and life updates are less intimidating than long ones and require shorter responses. Let catching up happen over time and don't burden people with the need to give you updates for an entire year. Start with your last week, and build from there.
- Respond promptly: When someone reaches out to you, respond promptly so they know you actually appreciate them sending you a note. This will encourage them to continue to stay in touch. I know it contradicts my suggestions on giving others the benefit of the doubt, but that's just the way it is: act the way you want others to treat you, and forgive all shortcomings.
- Make personal connection a high priority: When I was younger, my parents sincerely feared for my social well-being, so whenever I had the opportunity for social interaction with my peers, they went out of their way to make it happen or let me participate. Socializing sometimes trumped schoolwork, and I got it in my head that being with friends should be a high priority in life. Even if we can't always live out this mentality, it is a good one to hold, since in the end it is our relationships that make us the happiest (and lead to the best professional lives).
I'd love to hear from others with more ideas on keeping in touch in our busy, easy distracted world. I am certainly not the most sociable person I know so I'm sure there's a lot to add to this list.