Holiday Letters, Net Neutrality, and Maslow

When I was 22, my father had a lady friend. No, not that kind of friend, though he did take her to the theater. In fact, his only role was to pick her up every other week or so and drive her so that she could enjoy her favorite pastime, watching plays at the Round House Theater in Bethesda, Maryland. I am not quite sure how my father befriended Margaret, but she was a lovely woman in her 80’s who relied heavily on her companion, my dear father, to assist her in her merriment.

On one of the days of their planned excursion, my father had an alternate engagement and asked me to accompany Margaret instead. Never having met the play enthusiast, and being young and selfish at the time, I begrudgingly agreed to provide my escort service for Margaret in exchange for the free theater ticket she offered. The next time, again my father asked me to take her, and eventually I replaced him as her theater comrade.

What I love most about my summer friend — aside from teaching me to appreciate theater and its local actors and the magnificence of the stage — is to value connection. A few months since the summer passed, I received a holiday greeting from Margaret. By holiday greeting, it was not an e-card with animated penguins in oversized Santa hats. Nor was it a printed card with a picture of Margaret and her cat. It was also not a stock holiday card with only the sender’s signature for personalization. The holiday greeting was, in fact, a full letter-sized paper, meticulously handwritten both on the front and the back.

What the letter said was not so significant. Margaret only described how she had spent the year, what adventures she followed, including our theater outings, her feelings for random topics ranging from her garden to her few friends, and the genuine holiday greeting she wished me.

At present, with the ongoing threat to the freedom of the internet, I am reminded by the times of pre- mass online communication when people made an effort to truly connect. Margaret was reflective of her life, and sharing herself with me by including me in her holiday audience demonstrated her desire to relate to me, 60 plus years her junior.

Although no longer upholding net neutrality really refers to voices too small to have a stake at the table with the potential to be quieted and content shoved through by the interests of the few, it also renders concerns for our dependency on online information and communication. While we are influenced by fake news originating from foreign agencies and mass salutations on Facebook sufficing as our holiday goodwill, we have enabled our thoughts and beliefs to be shaped by counterfeit information and the quality of our relationships with other people to diminish.

True, there should be a fair and equal track for all applications and websites to process for our use. Our reliance on instant information will not revert back to the times when Margaret probably remembered. But also being conscious of what we are surrendering by replacing convenience is essential to not lose sight of truly valuable commodities such as truthful information and applications of human interaction that result in elevation beyond mere seconds from likes and retweets.

Not everyone can imitate Margaret and afford the time to write in painstaking detail a double-sided letter of their past year for all of their friends. Time, perhaps, is a greater commodity many are willing to protect at excessive cost. Margaret’s holiday letter did not lead to any exact tangible benefits; however, I treasure our correspondence greatly and felt fulfilled according to the hackneyed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — the need for social connection, love, and belonging.