Deconstructing the Digital Self, A Work in Progress
"My daughter emails me. When your daughter starts to email you instead of talk to you... It's horrible. You cannot forget human communication." -Martha Stewart
It’s 2023 and I’m considering form and function and why it might be time to deconstruct the email newsletter. Newsletters are formatted into recognizable sections. Newsletters are sent on a predetermined time schedule. Newsletters are meant to amplify one’s message and grow one’s online audience. I’m tired of all that. I just want to write a letter. Something that feels more like the letters of old. Something that makes you happy to receive because it’s for your eyes only.
If writing can help create and strengthen bonds between people, then I want this monthly text-based check-in to work on that level. I want you to look forward to it because there’s something in it for you. What can I put in a letter (that’s no longer a newsletter) to activate your mind and stoke your happiness? Maybe you enjoy gossip. I’m not going to give you that. Maybe you like feeling superior to others. I won’t help you there. Maybe you need to know that someone is on your side, that someone hears and sees you. Okay, I see you. I hear you. You’re not alone in your struggle.
Rising levels of loneliness and isolation concern me. I don’t want to feel this way and I don’t want you to feel this way. Did you know that the number of Americans who claim to have “no close friends at all” across all age groups now stands at around 12%, according to the Survey Center on American Life? By comparison, only 2% of Americans said they had no close friends in 2003. That’s both sad and troubling.
According to Blue Zones, friends nourish the body and soul. Having close relationships, in fact, increases your life span at a rate equal to that of quitting smoking. It’s been my experience that as I age, it becomes increasingly difficult to make new friends and keep old friends close. When we move from one place to another, get married and focus on our families and careers, it can leave less room for close friends, old or new. It’s normal today, but that doesn’t make it welcome or wholesome.
Knowing how important it is to keep making friends, I want to remove any obstacles that I may inadvertently place in the way. I want to be more available to others, and be easier to talk to and be around. Writers can be loners and I’m a writer and an only child. I do value privacy and quiet time and know I need them to be productive. I also recognize these traits as potential weak spots when it comes to making friends.
Friends are found on common ground. When you play golf or fish for snapper in the Gulf, you will make friends who do the same. When you gather at music festivals or literary events, other fans of music and literature will surround you. New friends are out there waiting to be made. They’re at the coffee shop, the dog park, in yoga class, and dining al fresco on your favorite patio. The question isn’t where are they? The question is where am I and where are you?
For far too many of us, the answer has been, or remains, ‘we’re up in our phones’. If you find that’s the case and that you can’t beat the scrolling habit on your own, take a look at The Light Phone. It calls and texts. No camera. No email. No social media. No web browser. If that’s a step too far at this time, you can also remove the Apps on your phone that continually pull you away from real-life interactions.
While dreaming low-tech dreams, I came across a new term. Entrainment is a term that originated in biology and then spread to the social sciences. It refers to the alignment of an organism’s physiology or behavior with a cycle; the most familiar example would be our circadian rhythm. Always-on devices (and the social media apps therein) break our natural rhythms and impose new technologically-driven cycles upon us. For some of us but not all of us, the new overriding rhythms become digital shackles.
Last year, observers noted that more and more people were quietly quitting. That is, they were still working a job, but half-heartedly, or half-assedly, depending on one’s POV. For me, quiet quitting is too passive. In 2022, I did some straight-up quitting in order to make room for new growth. I quit Bonehook and Adpulp, after 13 and 18 years, respectively. That was big. I also quit doom-scrolling and staring at screens. I’m happy to say, this opened up room for the concentrated reading and writing of books.
By reading lots of printed books again—about four per month—I retrained my mind to absorb and enjoy long texts. Thankfully, I am on more solid ground now. Denied daily dumps of dopamine, the mind reawakens and remembers how things used to be. I remember when I first started using email in 1995. I had one friend who sent me email messages back then. One of them said it was my duty to respond.
I remember writing handwritten letters to the people in my hardbound address book. Do you remember the joy of receiving them? I also remember when my hand would make cursive letters—letters I can no longer make without concentrated effort and repetitive practice. Here’s an idea. Write someone a letter in cursive and drop it in the mail. I’ll do it too. It might blow the recipient’s mind because even the best digital objects are grains of sand in an hourglass. Physical objects like a letter or a book matter and they endure.
To make something like this emailed letter matter and endure is asking a lot. If it were a printed piece, stamped and mailed to you, it might have a chance.
Thanks for reading and for being here now,
Visit DavidBurn.com to learn more about my writing and professional services.