What about tangible Social Media? Online report.

This article was inspired by Mr Harold Hackett – a man, who started a hobby of throwing bottled messages into the sea from the coast of a small province in Canada. Messages include his postal address and ask their finders to reply with some information about where the bottle was found. Since year 1996 and almost 5000 bottles thrown in the sea, he has received more than 3000 very happy replies. The aspect of how bottles travel through seas – the unpredictability regarding to place and duration is also quite fascinating. Therefore, people who find one of those must feel enlightened and are excited to write back to him. This is a successful attempt of showing some traditional, heart-warming fun to modern society members, many of whom have forgotten about tangible, scented and personal messages.

‘Have you received/sent a personal, hand-written, posted letter anytime during the last year?’ was the main question of a small survey, done last week on a website, similar to Facebook (draugiem.lv).

Results have revealed that out of 50 responses, 16 – the vast minority (32%) – have received or sent personal, posted letters. Small amount of those have been Christmas greetings, even smaller – regular correspondence. A few respondents have even mentioned that they have sent a letter to granny or aunty just because she would not know how to use Skype and is not registered on Facebook, which is a significant point for the purpose of this article. Participants, who maintain such correspondence with someone, make clear that it is personal – even intimate, pleasant and they are proud of actual letters piling up in the drawer. Or that it started as a joke.

Before going deeper into the subject, it can easily be concluded how exclusive letter-writing  has become nowadays. Nowadays, when most members of the modern society are within reach 24/7 through mobile phones, Facebook, e-mails. ‘Within reach’ is meant virtually. The person can receive the message, but the sender will not see person’s facial expression or other reaction when he reads it. There will also be no immediate physical (verbal) reply as opposed to the original meaning of ‘within reach’. The reply will be thought through, censored and prepared for the particular occasion, then typed and sent. Maybe immediately, maybe in the next day or maybe when it will not be meaningful anymore. Basic human interactions are put under a question in this situation if considered that non-verbal communication between humans takes up a bigger role than words in a conversation. Nonetheless, anthropology is not the subject of this article.

Should we be sceptical about the regress of the social media, when comparing floating bottled messages, writing and mailing letters and messaging each other online? According to the survey, the thought of receiving paper letters awakens warm feelings in one third of respondents and even a slight guilt (rare – 3 respondents), but most of participants did not give a second thought to the question after simply answering ‘no’. Again, these results do not surprise – the online platform is free, accessible and practical and the majority of internet users are used to it. Initially, one of the biggest benefits of social media has been that it is impersonal. The chance of creating a virtual profile for ourselves feels as safe as wearing a mask in a carnival. The regress of tangible social media has gone as far as persons presenting themselves with words (instead of unique, sensual traits). Humans are joined in this platform by letters, fonts, colours and pictures. Unity without physical presence, no race, caste, age, sex – words are what matter if one does not want to reveal more. Possibly a perfection of communication. At the same time – neglect of interaction?

When further analysing the regress of tangible social media, actual triggers for this phenomenon should be mentioned. Mobile telephones, availability of internet and shared online spaces (intranets, advertising websites and electronic mail). Life in cities becoming faster, business – more demanding of information and people involved being ‘within reach’. So ‘reach’ has become virtual. Business people needed mobile phones to stay ‘in touch’ for work matters – such a luxury. According to sociology of consumer culture, society members of lower classes copy more privileged ones in order to belong to an upper class (in western societies). So demand rises and technology progresses. May sound harsh, but it is the pattern of modern world, which makes it turn around (commercially and socially). Technology progresses, virtual connection is in demand, so eventually people get used to it.

If asked ‘are you on Facebook?’, 800 million people worldwide would approve. Despite the small scale of the previously mentioned survey, when used as a framework, it shows that theoretically, a little bit more than a third of those people have written a few letters in the past year. E-mail became popular about 15 years ago. Facebook was created 7 years ago. Blogs – a few years later. Hand-written letters have become exclusive, old-fashioned and rarely serious.

Regress of tangible social media seems like it is coming to extinction, but hopefully not soon. Unless Mother Earth will run out of trees or a rather eco option – elephant dung – to produce paper out of, it will be written, typed and drawn on. Maybe in a few decades paper will become a luxury item (just like much debated use of fur these days) and letter-writing as a luxurious hobby will become fashionable again.

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