by Ryan Dalton
I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your recent arrival into fatherhood. It suits you. Can you think of anything more spectacular than holding a tiny little being who is one-half you and one-half of the person you love most in the world? I can only imagine, truly. Give that sweet little baby a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek from me.
I have enjoyed seeing the pictures you have posted so far, and look forward to seeing others, and watching him grow from afar.
Do you remember the joke-yet-real-occurance from our childhood, where a certain family would invite another certain tepid family or person over to watch a slideshow of pictures from their vacation? Sitcoms from my childhood loved that joke, and I most definitely sat in on a couple of the real-life versions.
The pictures were literally projected onto the wall, or a projector screen; real dust danced around in the beam of light that glowed from the humming projector to its destination.
In this Facebook Age we live in, does that even happen anymore? Further still, do people even have actual, physical photo albums, with actual, physical photographs in them, or is everything digital now? I know, for sure, that avoiding someone’s vacation slideshow or photo album is much easier now: “hide from newsfeed,” or better yet “unfriend,” or even better yet “BLOCK.”
Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about sharing. These days, with all of our technological advancements, and the myriad of electronic devices we have at our fingertips, and the ever-growing number of social networks that we are constantly on, I think we “share” things with each other way more than ever before, and yet actually share with each other much, much less than days gone by. I am of the opinion that social networks create a sense of pseudo-community, pseudo-sharing, but hinder our sharing with people we are actually, physically with; texting is also a major culprit.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for these advancements, in the way that they help me keep in contact with those who I might not normally have contact with. I myself am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, email, several different blogs, and even Myspace, though it has moved into a place of irrelevancy. I am on, at least a couple of, these platforms daily, and I cannot actually remember a day that has passed in which I have not texted with at least one person; side note, texting has become such a significant part of our lives that the word “text” has even been added to our dictionary as a verb; it was only a noun a mere few years ago.
I myself provide a daily deluge of posts, on various different social networks; considerably more than many people I know, at that. So, please do not think I am excluding myself from these grievances. My concerns might possibly even come out of my own guilt and self awareness.
But how often do we see two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, not sharing even as much as a glance at one-another, or a second, much less a word, and yet they’re plunked across the table from one another, obsessively staring down at their cellphones, communicating with a person, or even multiple people, who are not even in the room or in that moment with them? And then ironically, I imagine them later that day, or week, or month, spending time with the person, or multiple people, they were so preoccupied with during dinner that they neglected their significant other, not really spending time with them either, because they are so busy on their phones communicating with their significant other. What a vicious cycle of “sharing” and neglect.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when we were forced to truly be with the person we were with, un-contactable by, and unable to contact, others for the most part. Cellphones did not exist. We made plans in advance. The only interruptions at dinner were the waiters, or a friend who happened to be in the same restaurant and passed by our table, or thick, awkward tension from a fight, or general boredom with a relationship. But at least those variables actually physically existed in that moment.
We did not have a cellphone to text and tell our absent-from-the-moment friend, “I’m eating dinner with so-and-so. Lol.”
Or Facebook to update a status about how good or bad the service in that restaurant is, and maybe even “check-in”.
Or Tumblr to look through pictures of “Cats in Space”, instead of looking at the person we are with.
Or Twitter to randomly share our political beliefs while the person we are with rambles on about something we are not interested in.
Or Instagram to take a picture, documenting what the food we are eating actually looks like.
Or a blog to get on because we are so perplexed with how we don’t share time with people we are with, and it becomes so urgent in our minds that we decide to neglect the person we are with to share with everyone how sharing with everyone can be so toxic.
It seems we have fallen into a pattern of constantly “sharing” with people we are not with, simultaneously neglecting those who are in our actual, physical company.
The other day I saw a father post something on Facebook and it stuck with me, set up camp, and has refused to leave my mind. It was a really simple post. Apparently, he was in the middle of playing a board game with his five-year-old daughter and stopped to tell everyone what they were doing; not about to play a game, or finished playing, but declaratively in the middle of a game. I tried to envision what his daughter was doing while he was looking down at his phone, preoccupied with telling everyone what he was doing.
Was she just sitting there staring at him?
Was it her turn? And if so, was she even aware that he was paying her no mind in that moment?
Was it his turn, and she was just sitting and waiting for him to put down his phone and take his turn?
Was she nagging him to take his turn, “DADDYYYYYYY! It’s YOUR turn!”
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Alas, for all I know, she had excused herself for a moment to use the bathroom or get snacks. And again, who am I, the cyber-sharing king, to judge what was going on in a moment that I was completely absent from. But wait, I was included in those who the father chose to share that moment with, so according to this new technological age we live in, was I there? No, not really. But yes. Yes, I was. But no.
In all my pondering, I’ve realized that real sharing, in general, is a captivating concept, and is an integral one for true community to exist. And ways of sharing can be varied by the type, quality, and selection of who-to-share-with, amongst other things I’m sure.
We can share money, material things, emotions, touch, conversation, time, energy, love, and also even the elements that are the antithesis of these things.
We can share more than we have, be selfish with how much we are willing to share, share the best of what we have, or share with others less than what we are willing to take from them.
We can share with only one other special person, a close group of friends and family, the broader community, strangers, or even everyone we come in contact with.
But whatever the type, quality, or degree of what we are sharing, with whoever we are sharing it with, when we sincerely share with one-another, we are acknowledging the essence of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are,” because we would not be who we are if others had not shared themselves with us.
My hope for us, and when I say “us” I mean humanity as a whole, is that we can get back to true sharing…
Dinner conversations that are uninterrupted by cellphone calls.
Intimate embraces that are undisturbed by re-situating to check a text.
Continuous attention whilst playing with our kids, with no unnecessary breaks to tell the world we are spending time with our kids.
Good, quality, un-intruded time with the person in our immediate, actual, physical company.
Am I being unrealistic? Has sharing just taken another form, and I am being an old grump? Is it ok that we ignore someone we are with in order to communicate with those who are somewhere else, because we might eventually do the same with that person, sharing with them when we are in the presence of others?
Nevertheless, this letter has turned into a novel, my thoughts have turned to idle ramblings, and I fear I am maybe being too harsh on us, or a little unfair. Please write and let me know how fatherhood is treating you. I would love to hear of any signs of Ubuntu you have encountered in your comings and goings. Extend my love to Jessica and that sweet baby boy.
Light and love from a Spring-like Brooklyn day,