The Art of Communication, Relationships, and the Trappings of Nomadic Living

by Nora Dunn on October 11, 2012

Rain and sun

 

“Do you know this guy?” an online colleague asked me (via email) in reference to somebody who contacted her about working together and had introduced himself by saying he’d been referred by me.

 

I couldn’t recall the guy, and I hadn’t directly referred him. His email to her was brief and a little vague, and in this day and age when website owners are assailed by countless unsolicited requests, his email looked like it could be yet another in this realm (albeit a creative one that was more than blanket spam).

 

(See the hilarious post The Pitching Game for an idea of the outlandish proposals that land in our email boxes daily.)

 

 

So what did my colleague do? She sent a scathing reply on the assumption he was a spam marketer, telling him where he could stick his proposal.

 

Turns out, I did know the guy. (Whoops.) He was a reader I had corresponded with at some length a year ago, but I had no archives of this conversation which is why I couldn’t recall if I knew him.

 

He was surprised and offended by my colleague’s reply, and after a little peace-making on my part, they apologized to one another and ensued their communication.

 

 

But this got me to thinking: at what point do we feel like we have a “relationship” with somebody we only know online? My reader felt a genuine connection to me, and although my emails to him were heartfelt (and lengthy!), I also field about 50 emails per day and am hard-pressed to recall ones from over a month ago, much less a year ago.

Our “relationship” had endured time in his eyes longer than it had in mine.

 

 

What Constitutes a “Relationship”?

If you only know somebody online, to what extent is it a relationship (platonic or otherwise)?

 

People meet and fall in love online regularly, but I don’t think it’s until they meet in person that it truly becomes a romance.

 

Or am I old fashioned?

 

The nature of communication is changing dramatically, so maybe then too, should our definition of relationships.

 

Text vs Talk

Studies are showing that adolescents (the emerging “tech” generation – and the world’s future) actually prefer to text each other than interact in person. It’s not a stretch; I’ve seen rooms full of teens all silently mesmerized by their smartphones.

 

This isn’t just about teens either; we’re all culprits. My surprising moment in time on a Toronto subway last year was testament to the fact that we all seem to prefer to plug in and zone out, rather than look up and interact with our environment.

 

 

I remember staying with a couple who were in the midst of some domestic difficulties. We all had online businesses, and each day we would set up our respective “offices” in the same room together and dive into our laptops. Unbeknownst to me, most of the time they were having massive arguments – via instant messaging – right in front of me!

 

I would have thought that leaving the room and actually verbally hashing it out would have been better for the relationship, but I’ll also admit that this isn’t the first couple I’ve known to prefer the written word over physical verbal communication.

 

 

The Evolution (De-Evolution?) of English

To facilitate communication in 140-character bites, status updates, texts, and emails, abbreviations have become the norm. Common ones like LOL have even made it into dictionaries, and the ever-present smiley face is becoming an accepted part of online communication – even in professional emails.

 

But what does this mean for the English language? When high-school and college graduates feel it’s appropriate to put smiley faces and common abbreviations in cover letters when applying for professional jobs?

 

 

Losing the Art of Interpersonal Communication

What will business meetings look like when they are led by the emerging generation who currently prefers not to communicate in person?

Is online social networking replacing physical networking?

What of the proverbial cocktail party?

 

Is interpersonal communication no longer important? How will marriages survive when couples aren’t comfortable actually talking about things with one another?

 

 

Isolation, Nomadic Life, and The Global Community

I’m in this too.

I lead a pretty busy online life. I have formidable followings on Twitter and Facebook. I field 50+ emails per day, and have thousands of readers of this site.

 

And in living a life of no fixed address for over five years now, this global community of readers and online colleagues has been a life line, sometimes more than I’d like to admit.

 

It’s this online community that makes it easier for nomads to stay in touch with family and friends, create new online relationships with people sharing common interests, and also give them a sense of familiarity when everything else around them is foreign.

 

I say “they”, but I’d be lying if there weren’t some of “me” in this.

 

I spent a good chunk of my summer in Switzerland in relative isolation, needing some personal retreat and reflection time (and contending with the largely miserable weather that much of Europe saw this summer). But the onset of loneliness didn’t hit me as hard as I might have suspected, due in large part to constant online communication with readers, family, and friends.

 

The online world has brought us all geographically closer together – hence the increased prevalence of and opportunities for location independent people to live nomadic lifestyles.

 

This is a blessing, that has enabled me to travel the world full-time for over five years and counting.

 

But I also think it’s a slippery slope, and online relationships are not a substitute for interpersonal relationships.

 

 

Where is the line? When do digital nomads breach the boundary between engaging the world, and forsaking it for the world contained in their laptops?

 

 

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Josie October 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hi Nora,
First of all, I love your new logo up top! Nice and fresh and hip.
As a 58 year old woman who came of age participating in rap sessions and Love Thy Brother mantras, I still crave in-person connection. Loved it then, love it now. Nothing else does it for me.
But I have to admit that the online world is so compelling and fun! For us oldies, the instant access to everything in the world is mind-blowing, sucking me in for hours at a time.
But it bears no resemblance to the nuances of personal presence, with those little facial cues or body language, or shared laughter. And what about touching? My gosh, reaching out to put a heartfelt hand upon someone’s shoulder, or just fall into each other in crazy laughter? Nothing compares.
The couple that you talked about — the ones that argued via IM — that’s one of the saddest things I’ve heard in a long time. So void of real emotions.
Alright, I’ve had my say. . .
As usual, you present a good point — one that gets us all talking!
Wishing you happy and safe travels,
~Josie

Reply

theprofessionalhobo October 11, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Hey Josie – Great points! I agree that the online world can be very enticing (and addictive!), but there’s no real substitution for being able to read body language and enjoy the human touch/experience.
And thank you – I’m glad you like the new website design!

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Fab October 12, 2012 at 2:32 am

Hi Nora,

nice article!

As far as:

“People meet and fall in love online regularly, but I don’t think it’s until they meet in person that it truly becomes a romance.

Or am I old fashioned?”

You are simply normal from this point of view!!

Physical appearance and chemical attraction are only tested when two persons meet each other in reality and not in the virtual online world!!

In other words:

If you haven’t had sex with her/him (preferably twice, thrice or more), you mean nothing to her/him and she/he should mean nothing to you!!

In other further words:

If you haven’t made love with her/him (preferably twice, thrice or more), you mean nothing to her/him and she/he should mean nothing to you!!

Obviously, this is true in the short mid term, in the long term other things come into the relationship!!

In conclusion, from this point of view ( kind of relationships between opposite sex ) online world is one thing, offline world is another thing which is totally different!!

All the best!

Fab

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theprofessionalhobo October 12, 2012 at 11:01 am

Thanks for your input, Fab. The physical just can’t be denied…

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Baron's October 12, 2012 at 7:47 am

Ma tres chere Nora,
You have certainly opened Pandora’s box with this article.
You and I should join forces and write the next best seller ever…
I do not wissh to disclose details online for obvious reasons….but let me tell you,,,you did hit the nail on its head…and I’m glad I’m neither the nail nor its head….
Berge

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theprofessionalhobo October 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

Ha ha – Thanks Berge! It’s something that I’ve been brewing – and discussing with folks around the world – for a while! Glad you feel I hit the nail on the head. Success! :-)

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Laurel October 12, 2012 at 10:00 am

I’m based in Munich but am guilty of this as well. I spend hours with my online friends and then realize that I haven’t met one of my in person friends for a while. It’s nice to connect virtually, but nothing beats face to face, especially when you need a hug.

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theprofessionalhobo October 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

Laurel – I wonder how much more enticing our online worlds are when the world outside our door is foreign. As travelers, of course we love to discover new places and people, but there’s no denying that it’s exhausting always being on your toes and absorbing new information, and in the end we seek what’s comfortable. That’s why expats often like to stick together too…

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BobH October 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Great questions – certainly easy access world wide to the Internet and the shift towards social media has changed how people communicate – that is a wonderful benefit when traveling – It is a concern when I hear stories like the one you described of people arguing along people texting instead of talking – But what caused me to pause was the question about “The nature of communication is changing dramatically, so maybe then too, should our definition of relationships.” I’m defining relationship as a long term commitment to another, not a temporary situation of just having a good time. Those are fun too, but not really a relationship – just a convenient and pleasant time together.

Maybe there is a generation gap about this, but I believe relationship is about people wanting to be loved and accepted for who they are. I believe it is a fundamental human need that text, online, or social media can’t replace. I think many people believe sex, passion, shared activities, intellectual exchange, and a whole host of other activities and values deliver this acceptance or love. Online communication can support many of those (haven’t figured the sex one yet but when they do, look out!). Then when they don’t happen like they used to or can’t be sustained, it’s time to move on to find the next dream lover.

When we keep looking, expecting, projecting, or attaching to these values that we feel embody love, we will never “find” it. What we want is the feeling of acceptance for who I am – all my wonderfulness and my human frailties that I exhibit on a regular basis. Getting to that state of acceptance takes trust and honest communication – a willingness and discipline to be vulnerable and honest about our selves. I believe that only happens from being physically together not online.

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theprofessionalhobo October 15, 2012 at 10:24 am

@Bob – Ah yes….if we cannot love ourselves, then how can we love others (and allow them to love us)?

When I said “relationship” in the bit you quoted, I even meant the broader definition of “relationship”….meaning any relationships, romantic or otherwise.
But I think that your observations stand true for all types of relationships (the sex bit notwithstanding)!

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nomadic translator October 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm

the reality is disturbing. I think we should thrive to have at least one face-to-face relationship with * someone*! otherwise, we truly feel empty inside. Of course, we don’t realize this until we actually interact with someone in person… it clicks, that piece that was missing, *just clicks*

even in the online world, nomadic lifestyle we are in, we should try hard to disconnect for a week or two every month. Otherwise, we will lose an important part of ourselves.

I’m probably not making any sense now haha, I just can’t stop thinking about my lover after reading this (long distance relationship… ay ay)

– Maria Alexandra

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theprofessionalhobo October 16, 2012 at 6:49 am

@Maria – Disconnect for a week or two every month?! Eek! I get palpitations just thinking about being offline that long! I’m not sure I could manage that much time offline, on a regular basis. (Not and actually earn enough money to travel).

Ah….long distance love. Been there done that. Absence does make the heart grow fonder – but it’s not any easier! :-)

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