Is AT&T Right?

Voice Card  -  Volume 20  -  Stuart Card Number 7  -  Sat, May 18, 1991 9:34 AM

This is a response to VC 19 Drury 29 ("And penniless")...

"Reach out and touch someone," isn't that how the jingle goes? Drury's card gives me an opportunity to say something I've mean meaning to say since I last talked to John on the phone a few weeks ago.

When Kathy and I were talking to a therapist a few months ago, we were talking about friends, and during the course of our conversation I just let it slip out as naturally as breathing that I consider John Cartan to be my best friend. I still think that's true for me (I don't think it's true for John; other Ponarvians here would fill that role for him, I think; I mention that in passing - I'm not trying to make an issue of that or say it even upsets me; best friendship can go one way, as long as friendship on the other end is reciprocated, it seems to me, but I digress.).

But, thinking about that statement later, it struck me as odd that here's someone who I consider as a best friend who I rarely talk to and even more rarely see (the last time was in the summer of 1988 - John and I went to Yellowstone a month before it burned down). And when I do talk to John on the phone (and this is my fault, admittedly), it's to call to ask John about some technical question about the Mac or to apologize for getting my Archipelago submission in so late (this submission is already six days late).

When I last called John, I detected a hint of perturbation on his part that I was calling not just to say hi, but that I needed some computer help, as well. It was as if he felt he were being used. Let me say here, speaking to all of you from the gazebo of Archipelagoland's main square, that I'm sorry if I conveyed that impression, John.

On the other hand, I do feel close to John through this contraption called Archipelago. As I read/listen in on his conversation with other Ponarvians and occassionally jump in myself to add a word or two or thousand, I feel I know what he's going through, what's on his mind, what he's feeling; In short, I feel connected to him, this best friend of mine (and this occurs to a great degree with regards to all of you).

So through Archipelago, the love of best friends is transmitted, albeit with little physical voice contact and virtually no physical contact. Is that good? Is that bad?

I suppose one could say, "well Archipelago isn't stopping you from calling John more frequently." That's true, and a reply to that argument would be, I suppose, that since I keep in touch with John so well and thoroughly through Archipelago, that there doesn't seem the urge to keep in close physical voice contact, the way that my wife feels the urge to call her best friend in Columbus nearly every day and suffers withdrawels when for some reason she can't call. For me that need isn't quite as, shall we say, urgent.

In short, the problem I'm meanderingly mulling over here is that for me Archipelago doesn't just seem to compliment a relationship with someone in the flesh, but in some odd sense it seems to replace that need for some sort of direct interaction. Is that true for others of you? And is that good? Is that bad?

Maybe this is just a modern/modem problem. In the days before phones and jet planes, many people who were separated from one another by long distances kept up fine, warm, even intimate relationships with each other through letters. And this brings me back to the more immediate subject of Drury's voice card: Maybe Archipelago is a more updated, more communal version of the letter writing tradition rather than it is of the more modern computerish / electronic / telephonish ways of communicating.

In other words, as electronic and "gizmo-ish" is our mode of communicating with each other via computers, the mail, and John's great labors, the main dynamic that works in our mode of communicating with each other is really pre-twentieth Century. Maybe, through modems and such, grafting the 20th C. onto Archipelago, will have some harmful effect on the ecological balance of our little world of communicators.