Katie Zinser: Week 3

KATIE talks technology and long-distance friendships.

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The angriest I have been this week – angrier than when Caius served up a baked potato as a side dish to lasagne, angrier than when Julian Fellowes killed off Goddess Sybil, and even angrier than when somebody on our hallway cooked sardines on the communal George Foreman – was when my internet crashed having typed out a hefty Facebook message in reply to an old friend of mine.

So I sat for another fifteen tedious minutes and typed out another five pointless paragraphs talking about things that are actually of minimal emotional importance to me. Unfortunately, you can’t delve into the interesting parts of your life without covering the boring, boring basics. It’s the online equivalent of the shallow swap conversations before everybody gets mashed. Maybe I should start replying my emails a bottle of wine down.

I am not for a second suggesting that I don’t care about my friends, or that ‘I just don’t have a second to spare at Cambridge’. The fact that I spent an hour yesterday playing “would you still like me if…” would suggest I have many seconds going spare.  I just think online communication is pointless.

And most of the time, when people email me asking ‘wubu2’ and ‘heyyyy what’s new with youuuuu’, the answer is usually ‘not a great deal’, because if something vaguely interesting had happened and I thought they might care, I would have picked up the old-fashioned dog and bone and told them via a medium that doesn’t make my prematurely arthritic thumb hurt from typing.

I don’t care for Skype either. I can’t recall a single Skype conversation I have had that has not been uncomfortable on some level. I am by no means the smoothest social operator, but I lay part of the blame at technology’s door.

First, it just plain does not work. My face usually freezes so much that the entire conversation becomes a slideshow of distressed gurning. Secondly, when the video does start to work, I always end up talking far louder than the acceptable maximum volume of human conversation. Then it turns out they can’t hear me anyway and I’ve been shouting updates about my personal life to myself for three minutes like a mad lonely hermit.

Finally, ashamedly, I spend too much of the time worrying about the box with my face in it to actually pay attention. Why does my head look like a boiled egg when my hair is up? I think one of my eyebrows is wider than the other. Is my skin that grey in real life? The theory of Skype is genius; the reality is less than ideal.

[Zinser’s Top tip: if you are like me and forced into a Skype conversation against your will, why not try this fail-safe method of diffusing initial awkwardness: put your entire mouth over the webcam lens before you connect. Your Skype buddy will see the black screen, become frustrated that it’s not working, and that’s when you slowly reverse backwards to reveal your big beautiful gaping face.  Et voila, a glamorous entrance into any conversation that is also an immediate ice breaker. Fingers crossed it doesn’t freeze on an unfortunate moment during the reversing process.]

Technology aside, I think you discover pretty quickly that the friends worth keeping are the ones who make the effort to contact you independently of their Facebook procrastination, and who don’t hold it against you if you are incapable of using Skype.  It is important to realise that you can still feel close to people without having to keep up a charade of superficial ‘catch-up’. Usually I find that the number of pointless term-time emails and messages I get from a person has very little correlation to how much I value their friendship.