Doomed to stay wired and weird

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

I've been experiencing some modern angst lately. Some digital discomfit. A case of high-tech hypertension. A fit of E-Unease. OK, I'll stop and try to explain myself.

First, let me explain the problem. I graduated from college in 2004 and took a job that required me to spend more than a year in Africa. I came home in October and was lucky enough to land this job reporting for the Southeast Missourian not long after.

Here's the point: After all this travel I'm finding myself a bit out of touch. Now, I don't mean out of touch in the usual sense. It's not the kind of problem where I turn on the radio and don't know what kind of grillz Nelly is rapping about; if only it were that simple.

No, I mean I'm really out of touch with friends from high school, with friends from college, with family all over the country. In this age of instant, worldwide communication, I've somehow managed to find a black hole.

In Africa I had a great excuse. Nevermind the fact that I worked in a modern office with Internet access and was keeping just as close tabs on the Cardinals box scores as any other St. Louisan. I was in Africa! Nobody expects an e-mail from Africa. People here think the only long-distance communication they have are smoke signals or trained chimps. I was totally off the hook.

While over there I received lots of e-mails and answered quite a few. But as time wore on, I settled into a comfortable routine of returning maybe one out of every two that came to my in box.

That sounds horrible, but it was kind of a relief not to feel the pressure of composing some witty and/or heartfelt response three or four times a day. I liked the out-of-touchness.

But now I'm back. And I've been back for awhile. And although I've reunited and reconnected with a lot of people, I'm realizing there are some very important folks in my life that I've had maybe one or two e-mail exchanges with over the last year-plus.

That should be an easy problem to rectify, right? Just fire off some "hey how's it goin' notes," and I'm back in. Well, not really. Because in our stay-in-touch-age where I could instantly send you the audio of my karaoke performance of "Rump Shaker" from a cabin in Alaska, time is not what it used to be.

One week out of touch is like a month on the calendar. One month out of touch is like six. Six months is an eternity. And one year is a tear-stained "what did I ever do to make you hate me?"

So you can appreciate my dilemma. If I pick up the phone now, I better have something really good to say. Or if I write a letter, I better hire James Frey to write my apology (I figure he's a writer and he's getting good at apologizing).

So I stay paralyzed.

It's funny how the instant intimacy of e-mailing has cheapened the hard-earned intimacy of old. I'm on group e-mail lists for people I don't care about, and I'm out of touch with some people I want to reconnect with.

So recently I swallowed my pride and e-mailed a friend I hadn't spoken to in too long. She was all for it, and we arranged to talk on the phone. After we caught up for a few minutes, I asked her why she hadn't e-mailed me first. "I was embarrassed," she said. "It had been so long I guess I just couldn't get up the nerve."

So that's where we're headed; we're all doomed to stay wired and weird.

TJ Greaney is a reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: