My best friend George and I have travelled through dozens of countries backpacking, hitchhiked for thousands of miles, and had a tonne of formative experiences together. For over a decade now George has been travelling and has mostly been based in Australia. He now lives in Tasmania and is following passion to work on farms and study permaculture. George and I communicate on Whatsapp and we're a bit lame at staying in touch. When we see each other we snap straight back into our old dynamic but when remote - which is almost always - we're not the best. We're late replying, we don't get into a rhythm and we regularly break our promises to Skype each other.
But then, a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from him entitled "The lost art of emailing a mate with an update on life". It was almost 1,000 words long and had a few beautiful pictures of the farm he's working on and of him slipping on his boots for his day at work. He updated me on his life and enquired about mine. He told me of his dreams of building a 'tiny home' on a plot of land and paying small rent to a land owner or even working the land in exchange. He was telling me about his blossoming new relationship. He gave me some updates about his family that I know really well from holidays together. He asked me about me. About my marriage. About being a dad. About my work and writing. He asked me what's next.
I've since replied at length and we're trying to figure out how we'll meet up by the end of the year.
These emails don't actually take that long. There's so much to say. So much that you can't say with your thumbs in a quick text on the run. So much is lost in that texting dynamic and yet it's become our primary form of communication for almost everything. If our attention spans are being dumbed down by short excerpt edits of videos and snappy click bait headlines, I'm wondering to myself what is happening to our relationship span. Instant messaging is useful when arranging to meet up with somebody, but what of the real stuff. The deeper stuff. What about those thoughts and feelings we wrestle with and which we sometimes need to write about to understand for ourselves. These things require a deeper connection. Probably a slower, deeper, more sustained connection. Texts won't work. A 'Like' on instagram isn't the same as sending somebody an email to congratulate them or to support them.
What happened to "The lost art of emailing a friend" ? Well perhaps in the same way that long form podcasting is becoming popular, or long form newsletters, or long form articles, perhaps long form friendship correspondence could make a return? I'd certainly like to think so. More depth please. Less noise.
Have you got any friends or family that you're losing touch with? Or maybe only communicating superficially via IM? Or you're always missing your Skype calls? Perhaps take 10mins to write them a more considered life update...
I love reading these long emails from my mate. I'll go respond to his last one now. Perhaps I'll send it by owl.