So Call Me, Maybe

the double standard of communication and connection

Living in this era where technological innovations enable nearly constant, instantaneous communication is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we have the unprecedented ability to connect with our friends and family the very instant the desire to do so strikes us. A quick text, a couple buttons pushed to place a call, a post on their Facebook wall, or a short recording added to an ongoing Snap-story. It’s so incredibly easy to reach out that we have begun to connect for the most mundane of events, sharing the intricacies of our lives that honestly fail to captivate even the people living them. Frankly, no one cares about the color of the spoon you used this morning, or that you figured out how to fix that broken zipper on your favorite sweater.

Communication fizzles—becoming dulled and polluted by the inane and unnecessary, upheld by a growing cultural need for continuous external validation. We begin to question every move, seeking the perfect camera angle rather than the perfect memory. We search for the perfect picture instead of emotional satisfaction. We desire popular acclaim instead of aiming to accomplish personal growth.

The ability to share our adventures and communicate when you find yourself half-way across the globe from your loved ones is an incredible gift, one that has been commodified to the point that most of us take the technology for granted. Worse, though, is when this approach overflows its designated arena, leeching into and tainting the quality of our relationships.

Physical distance between people creates problems. It divides—there’s no way around that in any long-distance relationship, be it romantic or platonic. Even a temporary distance, like taking a term to study abroad from Brown, can generate enough stress to form a fracture.

Perhaps it is our fear of this distance that can incite an overcompensating string of incessant “communication” when we encounter change. Our messages are increasingly composed of inane conversation starters and very little actual substance; broken records constantly doomed to repeat, unable to play past the first verse. Aside from quickly devolving into the mundane, meaningless conversation will give you very little to show for your efforts. The silences during Skype calls will begin to stretch as you run out of stories to share, because you don’t have the time to actually do much during the day—you’ve just been so busy trying to stay in touch. You will fail to form new lasting relationships, or gain a true understanding and appreciation of the new environment you’re in. You will keep looking over your shoulder, constantly lonely and wishing for what was, so afraid to lose what you had that you smother it by holding on too tightly. Eventually, you will feel as though you’ve lost, rather than appreciating what you have gained.

I am nomadic at heart and by habit, well entrenched into the cyclic lifestyle of meeting new people and then leaving them behind. I have watched too many friends and freshly-minted travelers fall into the traps of over-communication, suffering painful bouts of homesickness, unable to fully commit to new friendships and opportunities, only to wind up heartbroken as their best intentions backfire. The overwhelming, irrational impression of loneliness is the worst part. I do not pretend to have found that perfect balance—personally I fall towards the opposite end of the spectrum, perfectly content with Skyping my family a mere five times in the past three months.

I can vouch for the fact that it is possible to maintain many relationships without constantly being in touch, provided the arrangement is understood by both parties and no one ends up feeling slighted. It enables me to actually settle anew with every fresh move. It allows me to move forward without constantly worrying over what I am losing or have lost. Some relationships actually become stronger, secure with the practical evidence that no matter how much time passes between contact, the essence of the friendship will remain. Unfortunately, there are many relationships that cannot weather what many consider such a tenuous connection.

Somewhere, there is a happy medium that our society somehow overshot. Loved ones, no matter their physical location, can be a remarkable source of strength. They are the invaluable network there to hold you up when you’re about to fall, and to pick up the pieces when you do trip up—even though you thought no one was there to see you crumble.

Despite what some people would like to think, each relationship is unique. Irreplaceable. Yet change is the one true constant in this universe; the key to retaining your sanity is to allow what you cherish to mutate and grow instead of letting it inevitably shatter because you were fighting too hard to keep it inside its tidy little box. Even when it’s killing you to let go, constantly pushing against the inevitable is exhausting and only tarnishes the memories of what once was.

There is no universal solution, and I will be the first to pounce on a strategy guaranteed to work. Yet I can guarantee that the common response to separation can become more destructive than anyone likes to contemplate. Every situation is slightly different, each bond has different sources, strengths and tethers. All healthy relationships, however, require maintenance—and it’s no secret that communication is key.

Communication: a concept that society sought to trade up, and ended up swapping quality for quantity.