The Bandwidth of Love

In my Augmented Grandpa post, I don’t message one particular channel of communication that I really dislike. Well, I obliquely mentioned it, in a link to a video I’ve posted of Eldest Twin Daughter hula hooping.

But I hate Facebook. I dislike the interface, I dislike their dubious privacy practices, the shady history, their (in my opinion) hypocritical terms of service that lead to things like Nipplegate. I dislike the necessity I usually have to tell clients that yes, Facebook is a necessary evil for whatever business they have. Even this blog has a sadly neglected Facebook presence.

I do, in fact, check Facebook several times a day, though. It is literally a labor of love. But if you want fish, you gotta go to the pond, and if the place where your parents, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and daughters all post the events of their day is Facebook, then it behooves you to actually check it once in a while.

Which is sometimes good – for example, I found out that my sister will be performing at a fund raiser this saturday, and I can go there. Sure, she could have told me in person, but that’s rather selfish to expect that she would suddenly pause in her busy entrepreneurial mom-spiritual leader-indie musician life to give me a phone call. She does that when it’s important, and this was a fine way to find out about it (I’ll be there, Lulu!).

On the other hand, when checking the Gravy Hose late one evening, I see the following from from my Eldest Daughter:

Thanks for all the well wishing everybody, car is totaled but at least I still have [my boyfriend] 🙂

For those who have not experienced it, let me give you a rundown of what goes through your head, as a parent, when you see a picture of your daughter’s totaled car:

  1. OMG IS SHE OK? (she must be, if she posted to Facebook)
  2. OMG IS HARVEY OK? (see above)
  3. OMG HOW IS SHE GOING TO GET TO WORK? (if she needs help, she’ll call you, be a resource, not a responsibility; she’s got enough of those)
  4. OMG WHY DIDN’T SHE CALL ME?!? (well, surely she’s got more important things to…well, no, she posted to facebook, so maybe she really doesn’t have more important…ok, sorry, I got nuthin’. Why didn’t she call you?)

And therein we find the problem with using the Gravy Hose for everything from LOLCats to death announcements. It triggers a whole series of fears.

Helpless Irrelevance

The stress and OMGs are not actually directed at my daughter for not telling me – it’s my own guilt for not knowing. I don’t know about other parents, but my worst nightmare is simply this: my child needs me and I’m not there. That is the worst feeling I can possibly imagine, and it is exactly what happened: my daughter had one of the most traumatic experiences someone can have (a car accident) and I wasn’t able to help.

Now, rationally, the fact is that I wasn’t needed. But that’s only a slightly less worse fear: I’m no longer relevant.

So the impulse is to continue sucking down the gravy hose, not for the fun of YouTube beatboxing videos or my nephew’s insightful gaming commentary. It’s because that’s where I may find out important things too, such as my new niece finally coming home from the hospital 101 days after she was born, or a childhood friend suddenly passing away, or my daughter being in an accident. If I don’t keep up, it’s not that I’ll miss out on the entertainment, it’s that I may miss out on the very real events that are important in the lives of those who are important to me.

And that is a problem, I think.

Connection vs. Conversation

The sentence that really hit home for me when I first heard Sherry Turkle speak was this: “They are mistaking connection for conversation.” That’s it, precisely. My eldest daughter didn’t mean to make me feel less important by not talking to me. After all, she’s got a mother also, and her boyfriend’s parents, and her sisters, and her step-parents, and from her perspective, the most efficient way to let everyone know about the accident was through her Facebook status.

The fact is, it probably was. But the fact is that with our augmented life, we have some responsibilities that go along with this awesome power to connect with so many people at once. We need to pay attention to the things that might deserve more than just a connection. If we can’t find the time to do more than connect at the moment, that’s fine; the necessity of the moment is certainly more important.

But acknowledge the need for follow-up; the need that those who you have connected with may need for a deeper understanding of the event. They may need to hear your voice; they may need to have more than 140 characters to really understand what happened.

How do you know which is which? Simple enough: the more love you want to express, the more bandwidth is needed. A “love you” text will maybe bring half a grin to a face, but a whole hug? We’re talkin’ dopamine, oxytocin, quickened heartbeat, and the reinforcement of bonding within your personal tribe.

In my opinion, it’s no contest.

Happy solstice, everyone! 

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