Ouch — holiday plane tickets are $$$. Everyone knows this, it’s a simple product of supply and demand. This got me thinking about how nice it would be to save the cash and hologram in to occasions or meetings. How valuable is “presence” in a world full of FaceTime and Google Hangouts?
Back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth (or when I was in 5th grade), I was part of an amazing school chorus. As part of the chorus experience, we got pen-pals in Norway, and even went to visit them as we sang around Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
Pen-pals — an antiquated medium, but not idea. Plenty of teachers today use the web as a tool to encourage communication between culturally and linguistically different students. However, my pen-pals and I communicated through old-fashioned, hand-written letters, which I believe qualifies me to self-identify as “old,” or at the very least, “vintage.”
I remember it being very awkward when I met them. (Yes, them. I was lucky enough to receive two pen-pals; I’ve always been an overachiever. And no, it wasn’t awkward because of me and my own awkwardness…though I’m sure that was a contributing factor.) My pen-pals and I had sent each other photos of one another in envelopes that traveled across oceans, but that hardly prepares you for a face-to-face interaction. Only much later, as someone who had attempted to learn another language, did I realize how much time it must have taken them to construct each of those letters (especially without the help of online translators), and how much more challenging in-the-moment communication is, and must have been for them at the time.
We were allowed to mingle over lunch, and — shocker — found communication difficult. We tried various tactics, but I remember one interaction very distinctly. One of my pen-pals opened her carton of milk, and squeezed the open top a couple times. I thought maybe that was what you did to your milk carton in Norway, so I did the same. My pen-pal realized I was trying to copy her, and then I realized I had copied a meaningless gesture, and much laughter ensued. It might have been the clearest, most profound moment we shared.
I was happily surprised when my pen-pals found me on Facebook about 15 years after this interaction occurred. Goodness only knows if they even remember the Great Milk Carton Squeeze of 1995, but I certainly look back on the story fondly.
I do wonder, however, if Taran or Anne-Kristin would have found me all those years later if we hadn’t met in person? My assumption is no. I think that digital communication mediums greatly increase the ease and immediate gratification factors for social exchanges (especially the long-distance kinds), but the convenience also makes it easier for us to forget just how much there is to be communicated and shared in person.
I’m anti-blanket statements, so I’m not willing to say that *all* digital communiques are more disposable than face-to-face conversations (or milk-carton squeezing sessions). However, I hope this serves as a reminder of the value of prioritizing in-person time with friends and family, even and especially as digital methods continue to make connecting so much easier (and cheaper).
So take out your credit card, and find some solace in booking that holiday travel. It’s worth it.