Day 8: on keeping in touch

April 13, 2015

I realized today that despite having family members and friends distributed all over the world, I still haven’t found a great way for keeping in touch with people. I have a lot of stitched-together solutions for different groups of individuals, each involving an amalgamation of texting and social media tools. With my high school friends, we use a private Facebook group which mainly consists of life updates, rants and venting, funny things we’ve seen that we think others will enjoy, and soliciting feedback or advice. I remember back in the day with Chloe and Amy, we kept chains of emails or private Facebook messages. Me and my high school friends also attempted to keep up a Tumblr or WhatsApp group text but those eventually fizzled. We also quickly realized that coordinating group Skype chats across 3–5 different time zones (with varying internet connection) was a huge undertaking. With my college friends, I use a private Facebook group with some of them, group texts, or group Facebook messages.

With my family, it’s a mix of texts/FaceTime/phone calls/emails/WeChat, and unfortunately they are more often than not the ones to reach out to me. For work and group projects, Slack (and to some degree HipChat) have been lifesavers. I think Google Drive and Trello have also quickly become new project communication tools to keep every team member updated on different parts of our assignments.

So with all these great technologies available to us, why is it that we still suck at keeping in touch? There’s a degree of repetitiveness — we don’t want to tell x number of people the exact same thing x different times. With long distance, I find that keeping in touch all too often gets diminished to just general life updates in the form of a dry laundry list to which it’s difficult to come up with some sort of interesting or unique response that isn’t just “that’s awesome” or a “here’s my life update in return.” It also may just get too fixated on the past — a lot of ‘remember when’s’ — until you don’t really remember what it was like to hang out with them in person and keep up a lively conversation.

There are a few things I think people could do to stay in touch better. First, there’s the power of pictures and the power of immediacy. Chloe once posted a photo of herself on a weekday night in our Facebook group and just invited the rest of us to do the same — take a picture of yourself at your computer right now. It was so simple but so great — it stripped away all the painstaking photo editing and composition that goes into Instagrams, the FOMO and comparison of Facebook, the general audience mentality of Snapchat. Instead, we were just seeing each other in our natural habitats on any regular day in our lives, which I think is what you miss out on once you and your friends no longer live in the same place. Things turn into life updates lumped into categories of work, school, relationships, when in reality, it’s the everyday, mundane things that bonded you guys in the first place.

I also just started a newsletter for my family (I’m calling it “The Zhurnal”), partly because I’m procrastinating from doing real work, partly because I think it could be a good way to centralize all of the updates that do inevitably become the primary way of keeping in touch, but in a more fun way. I also realized that it could be a nice way to involve the parents more in our lives (me and Katie’s) as real people, like all the awesome publications work Katie’s been doing at Medium or my decision to take on another crazy numbered day challenge like this one. I just sent out issue one, but I hope it will be better than rushed FaceTime calls and actionable emails.

I want some way for keeping in touch to not feel like a chore, to bring back that same excitement you felt hanging out with them in person after a long vacation. All too often, weeks go by and you realize that time and distance have gotten the best of you. Like when I forget to return Madi’s phone calls or hang out with Kathy even though we live in the same city. So maybe something like a picture update of your everyday self or a private newsletter or a 3 sentence update (your high, your low, a “ha” moment), can inject some life back into relationships that now feel like another to-do item.