It was a busy day—first a road trip that encompassed lunch, and then a quick return to take part in a 2:00 webinar. And when that was done, I went right to Facebook, anxious to see what was going on with a former student I’ll call William: I was his art teacher when he was in middle school, way, way back in the day.
The word that always dropped into the bony cavern of my mind when I saw William-the-boy was valiant: he was tough and brave and, always and ever, kind. He grew up into a man who worked and played hard, who treasured his friends and family and cherished his wife and spun words into magic. I have two of his published volumes of poetry, and each year I collect another. Sometimes, when he and Elizabeth pass through town on the way to see her parents, we meet them for breakfast, and William signs a book for me.
This morning, when I got up very early, I saw that William’s mom had posted a request for prayers. William was having emergency surgery at 7:30 AM.
Hundreds of people responded, letting Alicia know that they were praying, praying, praying for her son. I joined them.
And then the force of the day took over; James barreled downstairs, ready for that road trip, and we marched off to meet our obligations. But I was anxious all day, that surgery knowledge simmering, and at 3:00, I clicked out of the webinar and onto Facebook.
Where Alicia had shared the good news that surgery hadn’t been necessary, at least at this point, after all.
Hallelujah. I typed up a response to that good news. I’ll be watching Facebook for more information, and I know hundreds of us will still be praying until we’re sure that William’s out of danger.
And I thought: Thank God for Facebook. Without Facebook, I never would have known.
There’s a flip side to the wonders of Internet communications, though. Mark ran into a totally unexpected example this week because someone ran into him.
It was last Thursday; I was just thinking about putting some lunch on the table when Mark called. He was driving through an intersection when a woman, probably distracted, ran a stop sign and plowed right into the Impala. She hit the passenger side, thank goodness. And Mark wasn’t hurt, thank goodness. The crashing woman, too, was fine.
They called the cops and filled out the forms and exchanged insurance information. Mark drove his dented car home for lunch, and just yesterday we dropped it off at the body shop.
Then we drove over to pick up the rental vehicle the insurance provides while the car’s in the shop. James and I drove home; fifteen minutes later, Mark pulled up in a big-butt silver truck, grinning like a maniac. He parked the monster in the drive and started snapping pictures to send to all his buds.
“Driving me a TRUCK,” he texted.
That was a good thing that came out of the T-bone incident.
But then the phone calls started coming. They were from certain practitioners and health professionals who’d read on line that Mark had been in an accident. They had the name of the woman who hit him. They had the name of her insurance company. They assured Mark—the first two times, when he, thinking they were work-related, actually answered the calls—that the lady’s insurance company would pay for all his treatments, and was he sure he didn’t have any ill effects, any aches and pains, as a result of the incident? Why didn’t he just come on down and get checked out?
Mark stopped talking to callers from unknown numbers, but the messages started piling up, and he called a friend who specializes in liability law. She told him that this was just the beginning. Watch your mail, she said. You’ll be getting solicitations that way, too, from practitioners who found the accident information on the Internet.
Sometimes, Internet information is just a little too accessible.
There’s a reason they call the Internet the World Wide Web; it fans out, sprawls across time and space. Its sticky strands capture a whole lot of people and a whole lot of information.
So I have been thinking about communication, spurred on by a couple more things.
A cartoon, this one in the back of the AARP newsletter, is titled, “The Last Laugh.” A woman stands in a doorway as her husband peers at a computer screen, fingers on the keyboard. She says to the man, “I need a more interactive you.”
Another woman in a cartoon, a woman of about my age, is sitting on her couch and remembering. In one panel, her teen-aged self is on the phone, snuggled in a chair, the curly cord wrapped around one hand, rolling her eyes as her father complains about the time she is spending on the family line. In the next panel, there she is, all grown up…and sitting on the couch, ignoring her husband, texting.
I look at the two panels and think wryly that it might be true: I probably spend as much or more time using my phone now than when I was 16 and my brothers swore that I always got a long and necessary-to-answer call at night just about the time dishes were ready to be washed.
And then I think: no cord, now, though.
And the idea of the cord reminds me of the expression someone used just the other day. We were talking about a surprising piece of information that came to light, and asking her how she’d heard it. She looked puzzled and shrugged and said, “Just through the grapevine, I guess.”
Heard it through the grapevine, I ruminate, thinking of the saying, and thinking of the song, and then wondering where that expression came from, anyway. I look it up—on the Web, of course.
A British website (https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/heard-it-through-the-grapevine.html) tells me the saying dates back to 1844, when Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph and changed the way people communicated. The telegraph was the modern, fast way to get news, but, in communities, it wasn’t necessary. Word spread without it.
That spreading of news from person to person came to be known as the ‘grapevine telegraph,’ and the expression, “I heard it on the grapevine,” came from that way of distinguishing spoken news from electronic news.
The grapevine, too, is a kind of physical cord image, a ropy, tactile link from one person to another.
I can remember getting in very hot water as a child when I told friends about some trouble one of my normally angelic brothers got into. My mother hauled me into the kitchen by my scalp hairs and informed me in no uncertain terms that we did not air our dirty laundry in public. I immediately had a picture of bright clean clothes, freshly washed, flapping innocently from the clothes line….although I didn’t think that was the perfect time to share my imaginative visioning with the mama.
But there was that clothes line: a cord again in a communication metaphor.
And how about phone chains? I remember, pre-Internet, hearing the news about school closing—oh, happy day!—from a colleague who phoned. I had a person to call, and she would call the next person on the list. The final call recipient called the principal back, and the loop was closed, the chain forged and complete.
We say, Let’s keep the lines of communication open.
Chains and lines and ropes and cords—thick cables that involve one person being present, hands-on, and then actively sharing the information received with someone else—being there to see or hear that someone else’s reaction. Cords and webs are very different.
The web, I think implies a large sending out of information (as I think this, I see Spiderman squirting web from his palm, a sticky mass that flies far afield and clings to all kinds of surfaces,–some, perhaps, that Spidey didn’t plan to hit). Internet information dispersal doesn’t imply a response. The data flies all over; many, many people catch it. Some make a note. But we’ll never really be sure, completely, who the recipients are, or what they do with the information received.
There is, though, absolutely a place for Internet communication. It is wonderful to type in, ‘grapevine etymology,’ and instantly have answers to the question of where and how that expression originated. It’s amazing to be able to put a whole college class on-line, to have people who would otherwise be challenged by work and childcare and transportation be able to sit in their jammies at 11 o’clock at night and dive into a course they need to complete their degree—a degree that will help them get a better job, provide a better life, feel better about life as a whole.
And it’s wonderful to keep up with beloved friends and family online, to see photos, to hear about accomplishments, to know, quickly, when someone needs good thoughts and sincere prayers. And social media, at least, gives us a way to respond, to close the loop.
The blogosphere is an amazing place. I’ve met people there who have become fast and wonderful friends. Without these folks, people whose work I look forward to reading each week, my life would be much less rich.
I am not completely a Luddite; I love my technology.
But I think we actively need to practice the other kind of communication, too,–the kind where we sit over steaming cups of coffee and talk it out, connecting in real, face-to-face, present time.
Or the kind where we actually talk on the phone to distant friends, sharing the news and the woes and the joys. There was a cellphone commercial not long ago where a narrator intoned, “Remember when we used our phones to TALK?” I was a little abashed—I still use my phone for TALKING, and, no doubt, always will.
Cords can be maintained by texting, too, and by emails, and oh, the ties that handwritten, thought-filled letters bind between sender and recipient!
The cord means that all the people on the line respond to someone else. Information is passed; information is acknowledged. In this process, we learn to talk to each other. We learn courtesy and diplomacy, and the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable. We learn that people we love and care for can have opinions and positions quite different than our own.
Even when we know they are wrong, we can stretch to understand why and how they arrived at that mistaken conclusion. It is easy to dismiss Internet strangers who disagree as crackpots and idiots; it is easy to begin to think that all the right people, the GOOD people, feel as I do. We edge a little further away, I fear, from empathy and the need to understand.
The web connects us.
As with any web, sometimes random things stick. The spider doesn’t want those dried up leaves or shards of gum wrapper. But their webs being webs, those things adhere, too. Hackers who try to impersonate me and leverage my contacts may stick to my web until I shake them off. Random old dudes posing as wealthy widowers and sending Facebook friend requests may try to get purchase, too. People hawk dubious wares; people try to wheedle our personal information and access to our accounts.
I need to keep up with updates, to be aware of the audience my posts and tweets are reaching.
I need to be vigilant and to monitor my own web.
The cords tie us together.
It is so easy, often, to put a general post on Facebook, and say that communicating’s done—to grab my book and light the fire and snuggle in. Ahhhh, I might think; objective accomplished. But I need to constantly inspect those cords for signs of wear and weakness. I do this by making the call or taking the trip, by meeting for lunch and catching up in a place where I can see that precious person’s face and judge for myself whether all is truly well.
I keep the cords strong by remembering that listening is at least as important as sharing. I bring myself back to the conversation. I shut off the monkey mind and try to really, really, be right there. I have to push myself, to remember how important it is to keep this cord dynamic and strong.
Certainly they are both essential—the immediate information, the real-time messages that keep me aware and informed, and the deeper, more questing conversations that maintain the essential connections. The web and the cords—I need them both, and I need to master their ways.