I tried counting all the ways someone could contact me the other day, and I stopped at 22 different methods. That includes e-mail, Twitter, phone, text, Facebook, but not my favorite (and very under-utilized) method, which is a letter handwritten on a series of $100 bills. If you counted yours, you’d probably have a similar number of avenues for your friends and contacts to reach you. I’d guess you have at least two or three different devices that you can use to communicate (laptop, smartphone, maybe a tablet, et cetera).
We’re theoretically more “connected” to each other than any time in human history, so you probably spend a lot of time basking in the collective coziness of having all those people you know and love (or just like) at your fingertips, don’t you?
Or, have you honestly gotten a little bummed out with all the stuff that comes to you through your phone, computer, and other rectangular glowing screens?
Me too. Some days, it feels like I can find a way to get to bad news or negativity within seconds. Politics, angry comments, internet arguments, trolls, jealousy, and then a creeping feeling that the world is going to either end, or go to hell in a handbasket in a matter of weeks, so why even bother making my credit card payment this month or even showering before work anymore.
And then maybe you say Fuck This, I’m Going To Take a Walk, and once outside and looking up from your screen, you realize the world isn’t ending yet, and people are out living their lives, having a pretty decent time of it (or at least manageable). And you better make that credit card payment after all.
And then you pick up your phone or laptop or tablet sometime in the next few hours, and you scroll through some stuff, because that’s what we do nowadays. And eventually you just get bored with it, or you start down the spiral again. And you repeat it again a few minutes later.
So how do you stop your phone, or your view of the world through your phone (and/or other devices) from bumming you out all the time?
I suggest texting a photo of pizza to your friend who really likes pizza.
It will not save the world. It will not get different people elected. It will not win any arguments. But your friend will smile, and you will be connected. Not like “let’s connect on LinkedIn,” but really connected, through the miraculous-but-sometimes-kind-of-miserable technology we carry everywhere with us every day.
It doesn’t have to be pizza. I can be a photo of a dog waiting outside of a store for its owner, or of the particularly masterful parallel parking job you just pulled off. It can be a text telling someone you think they would like a new album, or reminding them of an old album you both like. You can tag them in a comment on a funny Instagram post, or send them a link to a video of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, or notify them of the Not A Wolf Twitter account.
It also doesn’t have to be phone-based. You can send them a postcard that just says “hello from _____,” or ship them a book you just read even if it’s not their birthday.
Somebody coined the term “microaffection” a few years ago, and it wasn’t me, but that’s what these are: small gestures that remind us there are actual human beings within reach at any time, saying, “hey, I was thinking of you,” taking just a bit more effort than clicking “like.”
We all probably wish we could just get rid of our smartphone some days, or delete all of our social media accounts. Those are drastic solutions, and maybe good ones, but most of us probably aren’t going to do anything like that in the near future. So maybe we should try using this stuff to produce a small bit of joy for someone every once in a while.