Editor’s note: Guest post by Ty Unglebower
Each of us to a large extent is defined by what we put our greatest effort into. Prayer. Work. Raising our children. Staying fit. Or, stealing. Hurting people. Gaining power. Spreading lies. All require effort, and we can learn a lot about what a person is, or thinks they are, by examining those efforts.
It therefore stands to reason in my mind that we can learn about ourselves by observing not only what, but who we put our effort into. The people with whom we choose or desire to spend time. To get to know better. To share with. To take care of. And conversely, those who put similar efforts into us.
The promise as well as the pitfall of the electronic age is the effortless nature of communication and connection with other people. Granted, a great amount of time and effort can be put into tweets, emails, Facebook friend lists, and text messages. But let’s face it; you don’t have to put in great effort to communicate electronically. With the click of a mouse and the push of a button you’re on someone’s friends list. A flip of your phone and a skim through a contacts list and you’ve sent a picture without any explanations to anybody you choose.
And you can do all of that while paying little mind to what the person on the other end is going through, how they feel, whether or not they are doing okay, or in some cases, who the hell they are. In fact you can do all of that and not even interrupt the conversation you are having in person.
In person. The true judge of how much effort one is willing to put into relationships. Not that being in the physical presence of someone precludes them from being shallow or lazy by any means. But by being engaged with people personally we are more able to determine where we stand with them. And where they stand with us, because in person contact requires, by and large, more effort. Sometimes a great deal of effort.
Who is willing to come visit you? Who will drive 30 minutes out of their way to pick you up or drop you off somewhere? Which friends can you really count on when you need someone? When you really need someone who loves you to make a sacrifice? The more you are around people in person, the more you will see just who is putting in that extra effort to walk with you. Buy you lunch. Celebrate your victory. Stay up all night with you.
It is much more difficult to fake these efforts than it is to text the emoticon face that is most appropriate for the situation.
And what about you? The value of being with your friends in person doesn’t stop at your value to others. Are you willing to take stock of whom you are really putting the effort into, and to whom you are just paying lip service (or “keyboard service”)? Go through your Facebook friend list one by one, and think about what you would get out of your chair and into your car and do for that person. Ask yourself as you look at each friend’s profile how much you would go out of your way for them, or them for you. This will probably take way too much of your time if you have, say 1,000 Facebook friends. And that, dear reader, is my point. It’s way too easy to commit to Facebook, and perhaps we do so as often as we do because it is way too hard for some of us to commit to people “in real life”.
There are people that I love, whom love me back, that I met through online platforms alone. And there are people who actually speak the words “I love you” as they embrace me physically that I wouldn’t trust with a pack of gum. So there are exceptions to both sides of this argument. Nothing about what I say is absolute. But in the end, we learn much more about ourselves when we are forced to confront who is and is not worth our time and energy. And the best way to gauge that is to spend time with the people we call friends in person. Even if they end up just being worth a casual friendship, the ambiguity often borne of internet communication is eliminated, thus making room in our lives for more authentic people.
Ty Unglebower is the author of two blogs: TooXYZ (discussing his mold-breaking thoughts on careers, social success and more) and Always Off Book (discussing his “not so amateur thoughts on the world of acting”). He is a freelance writer and actor living in Brunswick, Maryland.