This morning, I received a handwritten letter from a friend and podcast guest. Upon reading the letter, I felt seen. Appreciated. Recognized. I felt all these things at a depth and degree possible only if one takes the time to consider what one appreciates about whomever one is about to consider. I felt as if the sender gave no consideration to manipulating, to catering his message to drive his social clout. It’s my unresearched belief that it’s this manipulating and catering of what we post on social media that might be driving the loneliness epidemic of the internet age.
Why does it feel so good to receive a handwritten letter? Because a handwritten letter is about addressing someone. Addressing someone means to encapsulate not their entire being, because that’s impossible, but just the subtle, nuanced elements of their personality. Addressing someone means being specific, means writing directly to someone. A 1:1 line of communication between the sender and receiver. This message is for you, and only you.
These days there’s no shortage of advice from tech gurus telling us to become something approximating a personal advice column. Build an audience, they say. Tell this audience stuff they want to hear, you know, juicy stuff like how to make a lot of money without moving your ass off the couch. And then, ultimately, sell stuff to this audience! As if the entire point of human connection is to transform yourself into a billboard upon which you can advertise a product. As if the entire point of a relationship is to transform it into a transaction. And since this is my blog and I get to be my own advice column, please heed my advice: don’t merely build an audience; foster connections and relationships that last. I deeply believe that ignoring this warning is the quickest way to becoming a lonely celebrity. And these days, with so much encouragement to become Twitter/TikTok/YouTube famous, now everyone can become a depressed, lonely, spiritually dead superstar. And similar to the adage that you don’t need a million followers to be successful, you don’t need that many followers to feel as if not one person cares about you.
Is 1:1 connection possible? Can content creators make content that at least emulates the feeling of being addressed in a handwritten letter? I’m not sure. The least we can do is try. We can try by being honest about ourselves. By talking about whatever the hell it is we like to talk about. By dming people and saying Hey, how are you? Instead of Hey, Try My New Product And If You Don’t It Clearly Means You’re An Asshole. We can choose not to manipulate and cater our messages. We can say no to social clout, and say yes to building a solid, robust social standing with people who matter to us.
Being specific about who matters to you – that’s not the same as tribalism in its malevolent form. That’s not the same as ignoring voices or invalidating other groups. Being specific about who matters to you means creating a context for people who get the joke. It means less scrolling, more service. More intent. More honesty.
Think about it: Don’t you feel lonely scrolling Twitter all day, seeing all these shouts and murmurs addressed to…who, exactly? Not you, that’s for damn sure. You’re so lonely because no one on your feed is addressing you, but rather your desires for things far less important than human connection. While scrolling definitely shows us that there are real people out there communicating, the reason scrolling makes us feel so lonely is because it never shows us messages addressed to us. There’s no eye contact. No 1:1. No This is for you, and only you.
And so, back to the tech gurus, we’re given techniques for putting on a façade: smile, you’re on camera. Ask for subscribers and followers (Guilty – hey, it’s good advice). Be punctual and precise because the only people worth writing (catering) to are silicon valley types working at the speed of sound. If you know more about Ethereum or Social Media Marketing more than how well you know your 3 closest friends, then I recommend reconsidering what matters to you.
To wrap up this rant, I don’t believe we can eradicate loneliness. To do so would be equal to eradicating suffering. Eradicating suffering is a very bad idea. Eradicating suffering means eradicating striving, means stuffing into the garbage the very human desire to transcend our very human limitations. Thus, we are stuck with loneliness. And our only solution? To treat our loneliness, to take care of our loneliness with sight, appreciation, and recognition of the human hearts behind our screens.
Thanks for the letter, R.