Every generation has a problem understanding the one that follows. During the 1960s my contemporaries were the “flower power” children, flocking to Haight-Ashbury, smoking pot and indulging in free love in their communes.
My parents’ generation was horrified and knew that the world would not survive the decimation of their own value system.
Our generation did survive. Drugs took the lives of those who went too far, and relationships changed. This sexual revolution was the birth of promiscuous love with every permutation imaginable. Our parents never understood the societal changes, although they were faced with them daily. Women were liberated. Marriages began to falter. Divorce became acceptable. Giving birth no longer had the marital prerequisite and family life began to disintegrate. It was a major societal shift which impacted every family and every relationship.
Now, 50 years later, Western society has its new tsunami – the social media “super highway.” Intimacy, emotions and pain are processed in an unforeseeable fashion.
Family members check on Facebook to hear what is happening within the lives of their dear ones. Phone calls are fewer among us. Why take the time to make a phone call, when a text will do? There is less telephone communication with extended family and old friends even though many of us have free international phone calls. We began writing emails to those far away, because it was immediate and less energy consuming than writing letters on paper which required a stamp and an envelope and placing the letter in a mail box.
Now, even taking the time to communicate by email takes a back seat to writing our thoughts on a social network.
Inexplicably, we somehow find the time to read the vacuous comments of those we have never met, and who care not one whit about our lives. Our brains are distracted by those on the periphery of lives, away from those with whom we once had close connections.
The need to communicate and be heard has not changed. The way we share our pain and emotions has been redefined. Wives are telling their closest 400 friends how much they love their husband on social media. Is this because they are unable to tell their mates directly or because they need to announce to the world that they themselves are worthy of love? Parents are telling their massive and uninterested contact list how they will always adore their children and grandchildren. Is this because they cannot communicate one to one with those they love directly or perhaps because the lives of their offspring are so busy that the parents need to remind their loved ones that they still want to be relevant in their lives? Is inserting these messages onto a Facebook page the only way to get our children’s attention? Young people are “coming out” on social media. It is a brazen but cowardly way to avoid the once difficult and awkward face-to-face reactions to their alternative sexual choices. Parents are discovering personal and painful lifestyles of their children at the same time as complete strangers.
Tributes to those who are dearly missed years after their death are posted and exposed far beyond the circle of intimate family and friends. Letters online are written directly to those who have died. Is this actually an expression of the inability to believe that our loved ones are truly gone from our lives? Or is it a subliminal way of reminding one’s children how much we ourselves want them to remember us, after our passing? Hundreds of “friends” are asked to “like” a posting about our pain and loss… or to comment on it. Private feelings previously reserved for those with whom we have been close have now become public domain.
The daily sharing of photos online of children and friends who are desperately ill with cancer, asking us to pray for individuals we will never encounter, is the personification of our feelings of helplessness and a way of dealing with private pain.
This very public exposure of our innermost selves is a new form of mourning previously kept inside our hearts and minds, and behind closed doors.
The “flip side” of this inappropriate public expression of our feelings is the sharing of concern for others in a most generous way, previously impossible without modern technology. A posting by our son on “Suicide Prevention Day” brought me to tears. He was reaching out to those who might consider taking their lives, telling them how important they are to their friends and family in spite of their despair. I would have never seen this side of my own son had I not been on Facebook that day. The other side of the same coin presents itself daily with successful charitable appeals for those in need.
Letters are no longer written on stationery.
I doubt that the beautiful Hallmark stationery is even produced today. Greeting card companies have reduced their inventories… as virtual greeting cards that are on offer have replaced the ones that we proudly exhibited on our mantelpieces.
We no longer have the dilemma about which of the beautiful cards we will save in our memory boxes. We have nothing tangible to enjoy in the years to come. No cards. No photographs. Today’s generation is photographing our family albums with their cellphone cameras to hold on to family memories. What photographs will their children have access to? Hopefully, the family photo albums which still exist will become family treasures in the future. If everything becomes virtual and goes into “the cloud,” so much will be forgotten.
Do you remember when your parents would invite their friends to your home for an evening where they showed slides of their last vacation? Years ago, family members came from afar. My father would set up his projector and screen. It bored us to tears, but we were all together in the same room, sharing that boredom! It was a form of bonding and sharing and a lovely reason to have an evening together.
Today there is no need. We post the 100 photos of our vacation online as we shoot them, and presume that our massive list of friends have the time and interest to look at them. No need to order in from the deli and have people come to visit for the evening.
The Israel Museum has a very moving exhibit of Jewish New Year cards from the beginning of the tradition to the present day. The heartbreak is that it now belongs in a museum, because there are no New Year cards sent anymore. They are an anachronism of days gone by. Gone are the sweet messages and the annual updates which accompanied the cards.
The exhibition beautifully portrays the changes in society at large, and the loss of innocence in Israel in particular.
Our relationships, expressions of concern and friendships are critical to our lives. We want to be touched and touch others. The need is still there. We see it every day in the way people express themselves online. But the emptiness is evident and the loneliness in this new world, which was previously private, is now exposed. We all know people who post the minutiae of their lives in an attempt to feel these have order and meaning.
What they do not realize is that their emotional state is laid bare for all to see.
The wonderful communication potential of the virtual highway is undeniable.
Posting our innermost pain on it leaves us naked and vulnerable. The use of it to fill the void in our emotional lives needs to be reconsidered.
Personal pain and loss, when shared indiscriminately, trivializes life’s most important moments. The writer, a member of the Jerusalem Press Club, is a former pro-Israel activist and radio show host.