Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The art of staying in touch in an online world

Admittedly, I am not the best at staying in touch with people, old friends, cousins, other relatives. I sincerely intend to keep up with people, but I am noticing an alarming trend with people I don't see on a regular basis - we become friends on facebook, and our communication will slowly dwindle to a few 'likes' of photos and comments when something monumental happens - say a wedding, birth of a new baby, or a horrible hair cut.

Although facebook has it's perks, it's difficult to engage others the same way you do when you actually TALK to someone. You can't hear the inflection in their voice, or perceive their emotion in quite the same way. I was listening to the radio and older gentleman used the same argument for why he never uses text messaging, and insisted on calling people in reply to texts - he also didn't own a computer - what a rebel ;)

Facebook, twitter, and similar forms of online social media, allow us to 'check in on people' so to speak, but not engage them in the same way a phone call or face to face meeting would. While people may talk about very personal joys, or troubles they are having on the phone or in person, I have found, they usually  are not so keen on communicating and engaging in as deep a manner online.

This really got me thinking about the same trap I have unwittingly fallen into for the past few years, the same trap that I feel many people my age are in as well.  I have been substituting 'checking in' on  people for engaging them and showing true concern and love. I'll admit, a lot of it has to do with effort, but that's a sorry excuse. I shudder to think of the amount of time I spend on social media/watching television/eating bon bons. My grandfather has friends who haven't lived in the same city as he for decades, and somehow they manage to keep up with each other. How is it that my generation seems so terrible at doing the same? I've come up with a few ideas of my own and ones I know my grandparents would also appreciate.

1. Sending a birthday card, or calling someone on their birthday. It's once a year, right?  When I married my husband, his Aunt sent me the most heartfelt and loving birthday card, and I think prior to that I could count the number of times we had met on one hand. She put in that little tiny effort to brighten my day and the happiness and love I felt from that effort far outweighed any birthday greeting someone jotted quickly on my facebook wall.

2. Make a weekly phone call to someone you care about just to say hello. I am so guilty of not following through with this one, but I am going to try to set aside some time on Sunday to call two or three folks just to say hello. Just think, if you rotated out who you called each week you would get to talk to a dozen or so people a month.

3. Be an active communicator. Keeping in touch is a two way street at times. Try to establish a routine, and then hopefully if you forget to call, the other person will note the gap and call you instead. I have found that persistent effort on my behalf is the key to getting the routine established, and usually once you do, you are golden and it doesn't seem like the effort is quite as much then.

4. Use social media/emails/texts to fill in the gaps. I know I spent a good amount of time downplaying social media in this post, but it is awesome for checking in on people and filling in the gaps. A simple 'Hey Jill, I know you said you had that big project at work last week when we talked, just wanted to check in and see how it went'  is all it takes to keep the communication going.

5. Find out what communication that friends responds to the best and go with it. One of my close relatives is sometimes is not the best conversationalist on the phone. I expected the same result when I emailed him, and I was blown away when he wrote me a lengthy and detailed email back! Sometimes it's best to just figure out what works and run with it. Some people are not [insert media here] people and that's ok.

What about you? How do you stay in touch with relatives, and out of town friends?

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