Pen Pals Are Better Than News Media

Social Media:

This weekend was full of nasty weather here on the west coast. According to weather.com, it was apparently rough in many places across the U.S. That said, I’m not surprised to read lots of blogs this morning that talk about staying cozy indoors. Many of them have accompanying photos depicting everything from recently cleaned rooms to attractively arranged snack trays (shown with the blogger’s favorite beverage). Some have pictures of the family pet, also relaxing in a cozy fashion, or babies wrapped in warm blankets.

It’s like reading a dozen letters from pen pals.

Remember pen pals? For the ladies (and maybe some gents) who are my age or older, pen pals were the only way to communicate with distant acquaintances before the internet era. Phone calls were expensive, but a stamp cost between a nickel to thirteen cents (depending on the year). A lot of information could be passed back and forth in letters. One only had to be patient. This was long before we ever had a need for overnight mail. Replies took at least a week, if not longer. pen pals

I had a couple of pen pals, and was fortunate enough to have a grandmother who encouraged writing by supplying postage stamps. So I looked forward to sending and receiving letters several times a month.

Since it took so long to write, send, and receive a reply, the letters were nearly always one-sided. It wasn’t a conversation that took place as much as a diary that I shared with my closest friends. Topics usually included whatever important event that was foremost, whether it was something happening at school (usually related to boys), something happening at home (usually related to recent purchases or accomplishments), or something happening to someone else (usually related to dislike of siblings). Therefore, my letters were typically full of childish stuff with a high emotional content centered around me. My pen pals sent letters that were similar, and when I read them I found out all about their latest hobby, or where they went for vacation, or what they were wearing.

This is very much like many of the blogs I read today, including (yikes!) some of mine. Although nowadays I don’t work and therefore have nothing to write about boys.

Soooo…..What does that say about the people who write and read these internet commentaries? Is this a bad thing? Are we wasting breath (or internet bandwidth) on pictures of our homes and pets?

At first I thought yes, and even felt a little bit guilty. But then I really thought about it.

It seems to be a matter of perspective. I don’t pay much attention to the news, but I do make a point to check certain blogs on a regular basis. Reading about what other ladies are doing in their everyday lives is more fun than reading about a sadly deranged person shooting into a crowd of bystanders. I think I get the same kind of pleasure from these blogs as I did reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories when I was young, or books by Erma Bombeck, It’s a glimpse into the lives of people like me.

It makes me feel normal and okay with the world.

I try to dabble in social media, like Facebook. But it’s a format I find helpful when all I need is to “touch base”, so to speak. Where blogging is like having a conversation with a couple of friends in a coffee shop, Facebook is like standing in a crowded street yelling at anyone who is passing by. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing as much as I don’t think it is useful for me.

On the other hand, reading or watching the news media is like being in the boss’ office. It doesn’t make me feel good. In fact, it makes me feel singled out and defensive as if I’ve done something wrong or I’m not “fitting in”.

It’s difficult to find an article or news broadcast that isn’t trying to emotionally stimulate and disconnect people. fear

If it isn’t getting you riled up one way or another, it’s usually boring. Do you read it because you agree completely with everything that’s being said, providing a sense of justification (or wishing it were so)? Or because you disagree and it makes you angry? Or read it with disgust? Disbelief? Righteousness? Alarm?

Or does it make you feel fear? Does it make you feel connected with people, or make you afraid to be around people?

Now compare the number of times you experience these negative emotions while reading a news article to the number of times the same source has made you feel good about yourself. Should you be reading this source? Is it contributing to your positive well-being or making you feel paranoid?

This is why I don’t read or watch major news media.

It is not because I am resigned to isolation from world events. It’s because I can’t tolerate the way they are communicated to me. What can I personally do about any of the headline events presented to me that concern a locale that’s not my own? Not only do I feel afraid, but helpless as well. Why should I expend energy shouting to the world about the injustice of it all? It doesn’t help me or anyone else to feel better, nor does it change the event(s) that occurred.

So I turn it off.

I’ll slip in a caveat here and say that there are a few good sources of honest journalism that are not focused first on creating an emotional response. But I have to go find them with the knowledge that if I want to be a change-maker I have to be proactive. Passive absorption of any news media does not automatically entitle me with the right to actively criticize.  It’s a topic that deserves another, deeper conversation that I’m not tackling here.

The point I’m trying to make is to explain why I decided that writing and reading blogs about everyday life are not a waste of bandwidth. In a perfect world, I’d have many of my favorite bloggers as neighbors who I could talk with personally. That’s not possible, of course, but I am grateful that I have the opportunity to share our common experiences via media with so many wonderful people.

It would’ve been exhausting to have this many pen pals in the pre-internet days. But it sure would’ve been fun!

 

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