LETTER FROM NEW YORK # 6
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LETTER FROM NEW YORK – 6
April 20, 2009
I’m a big fan of the slow food movement and its extension to the slow city campaign. It’s hard to argue with an approach to life that basically counsels you to stop and smell the roses (or eat the vine-ripened tomatoes). When I can travel without my computer and by default, communicate only with those who are closest to me (both literally and emotionally), I think of it as a good thing. But lately, I’ve been contemplating the possibility of supporting the whole “slow” concept while still recognizing the positive aspects of going hi-tech. As is often the case, I find that looking at the other side requires peering over the yawning divide that constitutes the generation gap.
It all started with a complaint from our son, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two-year-old daughter, that my husband and I are not on Facebook. If we were on Facebook, he informed us, we could see the pictures of our gorgeous grandchild that he regularly posts on his own Facebook page. Apparently, it is now too much trouble to send us those pictures individually and he prefers to simply put them out there for all his “friends” to see if and whenever they please. Also posted on his page are photos of a recent barbecue, a video of a children’s concert which they attended, some comments about work, some comments from others about his pictures and his work. He also noted in one post that he loved his wife, which seemed to elicit positive feedback from several “friends” although, strangely, not his wife. I’m assuming she responded in a more personal way, as they are still together.
So far, I’ve resisted the trend to communicating on a full-time basis with the world at large. (As I see it, a column in Positano News falls in an entirely different category.) Actually, it’s less daunting for me to communicate with the world – I am a professional writer after all – than to make myself available for the world to communicate with me. Possibly, my opposition stems from the fact that as the headwriter of a soap opera, I’m frequently in the line of fire for irate fans who take their stories far more seriously than is healthy. I’ve even received death threats for separating two favorite characters whose romance had begun to bore the producers before the diehard audience was ready to let them go. Occasionally someone will track down my personal phone number and call me, often to praise or discuss a particular storyline. And while I appreciate that the work I do can affect someone deeply, it’s still a little disconcerting to be tagged by a stranger. So when I’m presented with the opportunity via Facebook to not only share everything about myself with everyone on a daily basis, but actually get a response, well, my instinct is to run away.
Still, I’m starting to re-think. If I insisted on writing letters by hand and sending them by mail overseas, I’d be out of touch with many of my faraway friends who stay close to my heart and mind via email. My husband professes to hate his cell phone and “forgets” to carry it as often as possible. But I like the fact that my daughter in college in Boston calls me while she’s walking home from class to tell me she got an “A” on her final. And I like the security of knowing no matter how late I am, I can always call whoever is waiting to let them know I’m stuck in a traffic jam. In these cases, I gladly give up slow in favor of efficient. So why not go all the way and be as accessible as technology makes possible?
A whole generation after me has grown up adopting new forms of communication on a regular basis. From cell phones to video calls, from Youtube to Facebook, texting and twittering, they’re all talking to each other. Even if they’re not always saying much, it’s still a conversation, and I want to be a part of it. Yes, there’s an element of narcissism (who needs to know exactly what you’re doing every minute of the day), but there’s also a vitality that comes with the recognition that with not too much effort, you can reach across the divide and make a connection.
Slow is good, and there’s no denying, as I get older, I relish the thought of taking more time to appreciate what life has to offer. It’s what brings me back to Positano year after year, and keeps me hoping that some day, we might stay for months instead of weeks. But there’s still something to be said for keeping up with the rhythm of progress. I don’t want to be that old fogey who can’t figure out how to use the latest hi-tech innovation and snarls, “why, when I was your age…” In fact, there’s probably no better way to stave off old age than to keep up with the trends of the young. The real fountain of youth is not a magical elixir from a mysterious source, but a genuine and continuing interest in the broad-ranging developments of life. So, I think I’ll forego that facelift and join Facebook instead. I can always photo shop the picture and get rid of those lines in my neck.
LEAH LAIMAN in New York