Let me take this opportunity to apologize to anyone who has tried to contact me in the past year or two. I find myself disengaging from the “electronic age, available 24/7” mode of interaction. My email box runneth over with unanswered notes from friends, my cell phone (when I remember to turn it on) rejecteth innumerable calls (while all the rest go directly to voicemail), and I ignoreth my Facebook account. If you have chosen any of these means to contact me lately, you’ve quite possibly been left hanging. I used to be so good at using a telephone and interacting socially with other people. I recently spent a few spare minutes searching my soul, to figure out what went wrong, and suddenly, it hit me…it all started with emailing!

Before cyber communication was invented, I could spend HOURS with a friend, then come home, think of something I forgot to mention, call them up, and spend another hour+ on the phone with them. I went so far as to shun the use of call-waiting on my trendy, cordless phone, because I thought it was rude. If someone called and got the busy signal (I can hear some of your brains swirling right now, wondering, “what the heck is a busy signal?”), then so be it. They could call back later, or drive to my house and ring the doorbell. Why would I allow a conversation with one of my dearest friends to be interrupted by a call-waiting signal? No – it wasn’t gonna happen on my phone!

Then, almost without warning, in unsuspecting homes all around the world, computers took over the spare bedrooms. Suddenly, in spaces where children had grown up, and, since their leaving, various and sundry hobbies had been enjoyed, there were now tables and cords and keyboards and monitors and speakers and modems. People had to add the tech support phone number to their cordless phone speed-dial, and make up quaint, catchy email addresses. And for those homes where children were still in the growing-up stage, a generation of electronic interacters was born. Little did we know, at the time, that we were prying the lid further open on Pandora’s infamous box.

It all started out so innocently, as these things often do. I sent little notes back and forth – updates, birthday and holiday greetings, made plans for the weekend….and then, before I had blinked an eye, everyone had the capacity to do the same. Emails began to trickle in, rising rapidly to flood stage, from the children’s school, the library, the doctor’s office, the dentist’s office, the butcher and baker and candlestick maker, AND (the biggest nightmare of all…), from Aunt Pest, Uncle Creep, and my fringe friend, who forwarded on to me (and hundreds of other “friends,” without hiding the email addresses) every sad and/or soppy and/or inspiring story that came their way, as well as every possible mutation of the chain letter known to mankind. You would think that I might have taken this as a warning of the slippery slope down which I was about to slide. But, alas, I trudged onward, unaware of the coming snares.

Social networking websites…the very label itself is an oxymoron. Social (“living in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation”) website (something you hook up to while sitting at a computer, by yourself). Some genius thought that one up, all right. “Hey, I got a great idea – let’s all sit alone at our computers and interact socially!” Maybe they seeped some mind-altering gas into the natural gas lines, or something like that, because I fell for it, we ALL fell for it…hook, high-speed connection phone line, and sinker.

The sad thing is, it didn’t stop there. I was dragged deeper into the pit by a tiny cell phone. Sure, my husband and I started out like most folks our age did. “It would be nice to have one in case of an emergency, honey, don’t you think?” Now look at me. I (the one who said I would never text) am a texting maniac. (My husband, poor, geeky soul, still uses a flip phone.) We even got rid of our landline, so now we have to have a cell phone right next to us ALL. THE. TIME! “E-GADS, did I just miss a phone call (or text, or email, or a comment on my social networking site)???!!!” ARRRGGGG.

I am finally taking a stand. I am fighting this addiction with all I’ve got, because I’m worn out. I just can’t keep up with the maddening pace of this solitary social interaction. That, plus…I can’t get used to keeping a phone by my side twenty-four hours a day. I wasn’t born with a silver cell phone in my hand, and, no matter how hard I’ve tried, I can’t assimilate the habit. I am also done with sorting through spam to find the legitimate communication attempts in my email box. So please, don’t be alarmed or aggrieved if I don’t reply to your attempts at cyber communication, or if I fail to like your post on a social website, or if all of your calls go directly into my voicemail. This is why I seem to have fallen off the edge of the world, and it’s all part of the prescribed protocol for detaching oneself from electronics and returning to the universe of tangible, in-the-flesh, social interaction. I might even be practicing some verbal volleyball with an actual person when you call my cell phone (wherever it is), so just leave a message. But if you really need to get ahold of me, you might have to resort to sending me a postcard, leaving a note on my windshield, or knocking on my door. I’m here, alive and breathing, just waiting…


Propagate Peace…in Person!

WAY too many people are astonishingly angry these days, and it seems to be an anger born of a stingy, self-seeking outlook. It would appear that a lot of folks are looking out exclusively for themselves, from their own, tiny perspective, and really have no interest in broadening their minds or adjusting to a challenging situation or loving their “neighbor,” and no desire to truly listen or compromise or give others the benefit of the doubt. What in the world has happened to us? I personally believe that our attachment to electronic devices and social media outlets have made this negative and dangerous way of social exchange more and more common. Cyber interaction has not made life better. Rather, it has morphed and complicated our relationships with one another, by building tiny cells of detachment around each and every one of us. The walls are made of bricks fired in a kiln of miscommunication, apathy, distrust, ignorance, and just plain bad manners, and the mortar is our own, individual yearning for significance. How many minions will follow my social accounts if I rant and rave about someone or something? Or, on the other hand, how many feathers can I ruffle with my brazen and unflattering comments? It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s not uncommon these days to see entire news stories built around obnoxious Twitter posts (particularly if the posts are by and/or about “household names”). There was just a Twitter-based news story earlier this week, about Lady Gaga’s “fat roll.” Seriously….this was a posted news story, showing all the Tweets from (quite possibly) couch potatoes suggesting that Ms. Gaga should lose a few pounds, or get to the gym pronto. I am probably the farthest you can possibly be from a Lady Gaga fan, but I was stunned by the gall of the catty crowd. First of all, this is just brutish and hateful behavior, and second, WHY IS THIS NEWSWORTHY, on a well-known, national news site?! If we make news articles from these kinds of Tweets, doesn’t it just encourage the adolescent behavior? The saddest part is, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What I read in that questionable news scoop is happening constantly, daily, hourly, on all the social media sites around the world. The malevolent mob is constantly on the outlook for negative, often scandalous, news items or memes or gossip to share (and reshare, ad infinitum) about whomever they have taken a dislike to at the moment. Those of us with any trace of benevolence and charity must dig deep within ourselves and find the resolve to push back, by making an extraordinary effort to exhibit peace and goodwill to all we come in contact with. I know that you are out there, too, on social media, but you are the quiet ones. Or, perhaps you were out there, but have had to ditch one social media site after another, in an effort to hide from the landslide of incivility. Well, I say it’s time to take our efforts out into the streets, and bring positive, personal, interactive exchange back into vogue….but where do we start?

First of all, if you feel so inclined to ditch Facebook or Twitter or whatever, go for it. I think it might depend on how many followers you have. It is always best to limit your “friend” list to people who you actually know, and if you have friends whose posts you often disagree with, fight the urge to comment…let it slide! And, don’t be afraid to unfriend or unfollow when people cross the line (the line being whatever you think is unacceptable behavior, in view of a kinder and more empathetic way of exchange). But, most important, do not allow electronic devices and social media to become your main way of connecting with fellow human beings!

When you are out and about, running errands, working-out at the local gym, standing in line at Starbucks or the airport or wherever, make a special effort to smile and say hi to those nearby. My new joy in life is making people smile. I not only acknowledge everyone with a greeting, but I often compliment people on their clothing or hair or good manners, and joke around with people whenever I can. Just last week, I noticed that the man in front of me at the grocery check-out (whose ethnic heritage was not the same as mine, and quite possibly, we [GASP] voted for one or two different candidates in the last election) was “carded” for a purchase of wine. It was quite obvious that he was old enough, so I made myself say something. “How do you feel when they ask for your ID,” I asked him. He didn’t mind, he said. It made him feel young. I then proceeded to tell him that it bugs the crap out of me, and I think that my wrinkles and gray hair should be good for something. He stood back, looked at me and said, “So…..you’re what…maybe 22?” Ha! I lightly smacked the side of his arm and laughed, as I said, “You’re messin’ with me!” We both walked out of the grocery store with big smiles on our faces. This is what has been happening to me repeatedly lately, as I strive to love and spread good will wherever I go. I am beginning to see, more and more, how much people crave positive interaction with those around them, even when they might seem reluctant at first. Trust me, I have played to some rough audiences, and been rewarded with a smile from my persistence. Granted, there are also those who hardly even acknowledge my attempts, and even some who look at me as if I were mad, but that will not stop me, and I beg that you not let it deter you either. This is a war, and we must proceed at all cost, and we must cling to the hope that love (and respect and kindness and charitable interaction) can change the world….because, I promise you, it will!