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Say the words

Friends 2008 1 bw

The first time I heard of Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages was in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The dark ocean stretched toward a starry sky as I walked around the deck of a cruise ship with my Israeli dinner companion. Raised in the Middle East, his mother was American. He looked more like a center for a Midwestern college basketball team than anything else as he explained Chapman’s research to me.

He told me about five love languages which symbolize how people give and receive love in social relationships. Time, physical touch, gifts, acts of service and words of affirmation represent the primary tools we use to show one another we care.

When my friend cleared his throat and asked me which one I identified with most, I barely hesitated. “Quality time,” was my immediate reply.

But now I’m not so sure.

As an only child, capturing someone’s undivided attention is very appealing, no doubt. But after spending the last 15 months working at a place where I’m rarely verbally affirmed in any way, I’m starting to think I really need to hear “I appreciate you” a little more often.

Your primary love language is supposed to be the one it would hurt you the most to go the longest without. Knowing that solidifies for me that spending quality time with those I love is my highest priority. But when you feel like you’re giving so much and not receiving much back, life can seem a little less magical. I believe we should support our friends and neighbors in whichever way comes most naturally. Everyone needs a boost sometimes. You never know who just lost a loved one, who’s been diagnosed with a disorder, whose car wouldn’t start that morning or whose dear friend just betrayed them.

To that end, I stumbled across a website the other day, http://www.moreloveletters.com, that is striving to create a little more light and love in our world. It’s a worldwide initiative started by a 20-something woman when she was depressed and living alone in New York City. Strangers hand-write letters to someone in need – stories and addresses are posted on the site – which are delivered in ribbon-wrapped bundles to the unsuspecting recipient. In a world of 140 characters or less, constant pinging, and more virtual than face-to-face communication, a little cursive and a few sparkly stickers and neon markers couldn’t hurt.

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Digital Nightmare

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I fully realize that we live in a modern, digital world. While there are times when I entertain daydreams about attending balls in Victorian England or reading poetry by a fireplace in a log cabin somewhere out in the American West Little-House-on-the-Prairie style, that was not the hand I was dealt.

I’m only in my early twenties, but I’m old enough to remember receiving hand-written letters at girl scout camp from my family, newspaper classified ads being the primary place to find job postings and small, family-owned bookstores standing out in a landscape not yet overrun by big box stores.

I miss those days.

In the film “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson’s character engages in a conversation about the nature of nostalgia, of wanting to go back to what’s perceived as a “simpler time.” Yes, genuine time travel would be awesome, but in many ways, it’s not like life in 1997 was so drastically different than life is today.

Yes, the Internet and mobile phones are ubiquitous, but kids more often than not still learn from textbooks and hands-on science lab experiences. Nickelodeon soldiers on and still attempts to sell your doe-eyed darling glittery Barbie dolls. Politicians have moved off of the global catastrophe of Y2K and now fight about how to fix the devastating economic aftermath of 2008 and how to combat climate change—if they believe in it that is. Yes, drones are being used to virtually attack our enemies abroad, but communities are still hosting street parades to welcome back their military heroes.

Technology, on the other hand, has brought about some amazing advancements—like Skype for instance. How amazing is it to talk and see my good friend in Amsterdam at a moment’s notice? How extraordinary that I can find out everything I ever wanted to know about The War of the Roses on EncyclopediaBrittanica.com to supplement my understanding of “The White Queen?”

Still, I’m glad I went to middle school in the age of passing notes during locker breaks as opposed to sexting. If my 8th grade English teacher told me to read “Animal Farm” on my school-provided Kindle, I know I’d be upset. And it’s a shame that you now have to turn to HBO in order to watch a program that doesn’t allow mindless tweets from strangers to fill the bottom of the screen.

Yet stores still sell books, stationary, newspapers, magazines, and thank God, CDs. (Yes, I own an iPod and iPhone). And I’m glad they do because in my opinion, no experience with the digital screen can ever come close to the joy of smelling the remnants of sunscreen on a paperback book I once brought to the beach. Besides, I like the CDs cover art and the lyrics printed inside.

Children in public schools adeptly typing out their Algebra lessons online but not being able to read the eloquent swirls of cursive adorning a card from their grandmother is depressing. And signing a “virtual receipt” at Target seems a little ridiculous. I’m as big of a tree hugger as the next person, and I recycle all of my paper products. But I don’t enjoy the feeling of dried-out eyes at the end of a workday spent staring at my computer.

My friends and I send postcards to each other when we go on vacations, and occasionally, write letters — yes, actual, 1960s style pen pal letters — to each other when we have the time. I love seeing their handwriting in my mailbox; it always brings a smile to my face.

And working for a group of community newspapers, you can bet that I support the work of journalists and authors with my hard-earned paycheck. Pay walls for news content online will be the real wave of the future, because it simply isn’t fair for you to read my work for nothing. You wouldn’t ask that I allow you to fix my television or cook my meal without being compensated, would you?

Perhaps we can all be a little more conscious about slowing down our lifestyles occasionally and reacquainting ourselves with the wonders of White Out as opposed to always relying on the backspace key. There’s nothing like a newspaper spread all over the coffee table on the weekend, nothing like the excitement of waiting at midnight with hundreds of other people at the local bookstore for the release of the next Harry Potter book.

When we lose the brick-and-mortar, the real, the tangible, we lose the visceral. We lose a little bit of our community, a little bit of ourselves. If you agree, send a letter to your best friend this week, support your local bookstore, or go see an artist live and in color as opposed to watching them on YouTube.

Technology is a beautiful gift, but we shouldn’t let it take away the connection that makes us human.

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