Blank Space

Talk about the old ways: the era of tea parties, balls, sitting on the porch, picnics, moonlight games in the village square, pen pals, letter writing or carting a journal around and talking. Yes, talking.
When a friend shot me email weeks ago his opening lines read, I know we talk on Whatsapp and exchange pleasantries, but it has been a while I sent you a mail. Then he proceeded to write about a conversation he’d been having with another friend, and I chipped in. Basically it was a really long exchange.

When did we lose that? The genuineness of getting to know another person I mean. Back in secondary school, I had a pen pal, Melissa. We would write pages of our lives and the things we would love to do when we grow up. I remember taking some money off my monthly allowance, rushing to the Business Studies department to buy a double stamp, because Mel lived in the States and it would take the better part of a week before it was delivered. But it was worth it, and I was excited because this was another person miles away talking to me.

Someone once said that the greatest problem of mankind is communication. It was probably said so many years ago, but the problem keeps deepening. Because one day the internet came and we shoved our pens behind ears to welcome typing on a computer. Then the mobile device got revolutionized and we loved the SMS feature. What no one knew was how high mobile tariffs would cause us to shrink pages of text into a single screen. I never imagined saving spit could become so distasteful, but it did when Instant Messaging took over our lives. And there is Facebook and Twitter where we talk about everything meaningless ranging from our latest breakfast to the most recent crush.

It’s like the world is on a road to talk less. In this mad dash for followers and shallow friendships, we have learned to circle ourselves with people without substance. Not that there are people with nothing to offer, because I believe there is a bit of treasure to mine from every man and a story to unearth , we just do not take the time to do that. There is a veil in this new system; shrinking lives into 140 characters or less. We practice Word economics, maximizing space, minimizing ink; and the 80-20 principle of learning to achieve more with minimal effort.

But that is the problem. Some people call it the lost art of conversation, and it is right. We have stopped communicating with one another and have begun some monkey dance to popularity. Can we just pause? Look around and ask ourselves how many people we know, I mean actually know, beyond twitter handles and what’s-on-your-mind updates. Past the hash tag activism and weekly wars and the snippet of inscriptions in the beauty pageant that’s become Instagram. Let’s just stop and ask ourselves who all these strangers are around us.

At one time I mused about the West and the Shrink culture. Why pay all that money just to have someone listen to you talk? Well, why not? People die from depression every day and we say to ourselves, He seemed so happy; had a bright future ahead. When what we should be saying is, I should have paid more attention, gone visiting and asked about his day. We are rapidly annihilating one another. We are running through all these costumes and cosmetics it’s become difficult to see who is underneath. We are walking past our neighbours without the faintest idea who they are. We are judging people so fast without offering the courtesy of an introduction. We are becoming lonely people.

There is this thing about a blank space, that endless stretch of white. It screams possibilities. When I pull out my notebook and pick up my pen, I don’t know what’s going to end up on that page. But fifteen minutes later when I look, there are scribbled words reflecting my thoughts there. When the stranger seated beside me on the bus says hello and I smile back in response, we talk. We talk about everything and nothing; but in that space of time just before I get off, I know more about him in minutes than I do about some year old friends.

You know we can be blank spaces too — to ourselves, for the world. We carry around limitless possibility; locked away in our minds, hidden by the shadows we call self. It’s the stuff of friendships, the foundation of trust. And every time we bother to give attention to another person, just like the blank pages of my notebook we are saying to them, I want to hear your story.

 

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34 thoughts on “Blank Space

  1. Iremise February 17, 2015 / 10:47 pm

    This is indeed an insightful expose on the fast eroding values of true friendship built on soul searching conversations and meaningful discourse.
    How so many people are struggling with the facade they have put up while they struggle in deep silence.
    We sure need to fill up the blank spaces.

    Liked by 2 people

    • uju February 19, 2015 / 10:36 am

      Here’s something I learnt from Scott Fitzgerald: Let us show a man we are his friends when he’s alive, not when he’s dead.

      Thanks for stopping by, Iremise

      Like

  2. olisakwerah February 7, 2015 / 5:55 pm

    “Talk about the old ways: the era of tea parties, balls, sitting on the porch, picnics, moonlight games in the village square, pen pals, letter writing or carting a journal around and talking. Yes, talking.”

    …..the porch, picnics, moonlight games and let me add loads of indoor games and folk tales sure evoked the past in a pleasant way…growing up was fun.

    With the advent of technology, genuine Interaction among humans has declined and it is worse among adolescents. A friend once told me that she observed her 8, 12 and 14 year olds & discovered that they preferred fiddling with their phones, ipads and video games to talking with one another. She had to regulate the gadgets so that (according to her) they can gist and bond as siblings.

    The internet and social media has surely revolutionized communicating but when it comes to establishing a rapport, the old ways sure beats what we have nowadays. Believe it or not, the eyes, the voice and even the handwriting can tell u a lot about someone u just met.

    Long long ago, one of the greatest minds that ever lived said ‘man is a social animal’ and i fully subscribe to that.

    Nice read.
    Keep them coming 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 8, 2015 / 3:50 pm

      Beautiful and fresh insight Olisa.
      Man is a social animal. Social network should help with networking. Man would rather create a social presence without networking.
      To be able to talk with someone! Bond as people and discover more about humans by sight and speech, even without disclosing personal information. That’s something to wish for 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. folakemiodoaje February 7, 2015 / 8:07 am

    Great piece Uju and the one that rings home.

    “When did we lose that? The genuineness of getting to know another person I mean” – You are right with how information overload has influenced our attitude with communication in the last decade.

    I suppose the importance of emailing or paper-pen letter writing can not be overstated as it helps to have proper conversations with friends without being limited to character counts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 8, 2015 / 3:40 pm

      Information Overload — I love the ring of this 😀
      All that tapping and saying so little is really killing our ability to reach out to one another.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. mindsorandom February 5, 2015 / 12:28 pm

    The truth is you can’t be close to everyone. The more friends you have the more the likelihood to be not so close to some of them. I think that’s why people will rather have friends on social media. Virtual friendship is less tasking.

    With that said there are friends who use social media to catch up. I guess it’s not so much how you communicate really, it’s more about the quality and genuineness of the conversations we have.

    Like

    • uju February 8, 2015 / 2:54 pm

      You know what, they don’t even have to be friends. Acquaintances work just fine, and might even be better because you can talk about everything and nothing at all. Just good ‘ole politics, entertainment or what the lady with the 18th century complaint eye brows looks like 😀
      Just conversation.

      Like

  5. Obasi Chidi February 4, 2015 / 11:02 pm

    Truely internet has made whole world a global village,as if you are communicating with your neighbour in #facemeandfaceyou building,increase people psychological moral but dent the image of writing with the pen,i once carried out research on this topic,found out lot has gone under.

    Like

    • uju February 8, 2015 / 2:52 pm

      Would love to read/hear about your findings 🙂

      Like

  6. livelytwist February 4, 2015 / 2:00 pm

    Uju, I really don’t think this is the problem:
    “Because one day the internet came and we shoved our pens behind ears to welcome typing on a computer. Then the mobile device got revolutionized and we loved the SMS feature. What no one knew was how high mobile tariffs would cause us to shrink pages of text into a single screen.”

    There are many ‘free’ apps that we can ‘write’ long letters on if we want. Personally after a long day at work spent ‘typing’ when I get home, the last thing I want to do is type again! I’m thankful for Facetime, Skype, etc; they enable me ‘rest’ my fingers.

    I also think we have to be realistic about the number of people we can truly share our lives with. I don’t want to know everyone, follower or friend on social media = acquaintance, beyond a few likes, comments, and exchange of ideas. But for those that matter to me, I want to be present for them, and not let technology drive us apart. Yes, I have to be intentional about this. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 8, 2015 / 2:51 pm

      “I also think we have to be realistic about the number of people we can truly share our lives with. I don’t want to know everyone, follower or friend on social media = acquaintance, beyond a few likes, comments, and exchange of ideas.”

      Right, Timi. I also don’t want to share my life with everyone out there, and that’s not what I was driving at. Like a poster above said, it seems we don’t particularly care about one another any more. Like we can’t even see the person beside us.
      The internet is a great tool when we remember why we have it — ease of communication, keeping in touch with events and people all over the world. But how much of that purpose is currently fulfilled?
      That’s my point. Everyday I get updates of friend requests on FB, and people asking for a follow back on Twitter, and yet I have no idea who/what these people are about. And just when you think you’ve finally seen actual humans to talk to, the first few words they utter goes like this: I have 3000 twitter followers. Oh I’ve reached my FB friend limit. Seriously?
      It’s not too much to ask for genuine concern about the next man, is it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • livelytwist February 8, 2015 / 7:42 pm

        Ah Uju I feel you. But the world was like this before the internet abi? Perhaps technology just exacerbates it by amplifying what was already there. I wrote a post that touched on aspects of life in Lagos called Urban Solitude that explored this theme in a different way. If you’re interested, I’ll share the link.

        Maybe you and I can start (or continue) the ‘Genuine Concern’ revolution . . .

        Like

      • uju February 9, 2015 / 12:14 pm

        @Link. Yes, please do share.

        Like

  7. George February 3, 2015 / 1:35 am

    Unfortunately, we’ve become a society with a fifteen minute attention span. The time it takes to really communicate is too much for us. We’d rather pound out a hundred or so characters and call it a day. At some point we’ll come to regret this but for the moment it fits into our lives. Sadly enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 3, 2015 / 10:33 am

      Sad indeed. Will there also come a time when seeing one another will become a problem too? Sharing a smile? Giving a hand?
      Gloomy days ahead 😦

      Like

  8. Odii February 2, 2015 / 10:04 am

    That human beings have a propensity to communicate, to trust somebody is not in doubt. We all want to be able to open up to someone and trust them without fear. But we have seen so much betrayal that we just jumped at the opportunity to communicate without actually trusting.

    I personally know that people take exception to actually listening to what someone THINKS about anything. We don’t want that depth these days. It’s too demanding. We want sound bites and smartass remarks, stuff that keeps us on a high all day long and carefully ignores the real business of living.

    Personally I embraced Whatsapp over 2go because I could read the history of a chat. In the past I kept letters I exchanged and hunted personal correspondences of my family members. It was how I got to understand people and know how they thought.

    I think that people are dying of loneliness because they won’t THINK. And then they won’t think because they just want some company and they’re afraid of people thinking they’re too boring or serious so they only try to perfect the art of being fun company rather than enriching company. But everybody gets tired of laughing at some point. I mean, I watched Mr Bean for a whole night once and by morning just the sound of his name was pissing me off. We want to be able to be made wiser by the people we associate with and we also want to be able to relax.

    So is it technology? I think technology only exacerbated an existing problem. It made shallowness something to celebrate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 2, 2015 / 12:01 pm

      “I think that people are dying of loneliness because they won’t THINK. And then they won’t think because they just want some company and they’re afraid of people thinking they’re too boring or serious so they only try to perfect the art of being fun company rather than enriching company.”—

      I like this 🙂

      Like

  9. ifemmanuel February 2, 2015 / 9:29 am

    We have multiplied the avenues to communicate with others at the expense of communication itself. Now we’re all just screaming for attention with nobody listening.

    I think Timi had something similar on her blog too. We all have to wrestle our attention from the din of the internet and focus on humans around us, less we become like the characters in the movie Her who had to make friends and fall in love with their computers. Sounds like SciFi, but we’re there already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 2, 2015 / 11:58 am

      That’s scary, falling in love with your computer. But aren’t we already doing that? Our mobile phones have become the most treasured object around and network sites are making a fortune! It’s quite sad like you said that we’re sacrificing communication at the expense of communication itself — such glaring irony.

      Followers without depth. I haven’t seen anything as sad in this century.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. makagutu February 2, 2015 / 7:19 am

    I write letters to a few friends every once in a while. It is much fun.

    Like

    • uju February 2, 2015 / 11:56 am

      I need to start doing that too. A really long mail every month 🙂

      Like

      • uju February 2, 2015 / 12:07 pm

        Oh please! 😀 You are the king of story telling and very engaging conversations. And all those awesome books you recommend *dreamy sigh*

        P.S Finally got an ebook reader. Can I get a download link for the last book now?

        Like

      • outlanderspecies February 2, 2015 / 12:36 pm

        I have a female friend who had issues of communication in her relationship because of distance and then the guy was very busy so even chatting was an issue.

        She in the other hand is the type that loves to tell the person she dates everything from how she broke her nails to how cute the gummy bear in the corner shop look so I gave her a simple solution: Every Sunday, type everything that happened to you during the week. Every little detail she wanted to share but could not share and send it as a mail to him so he can read during his spare time and she would have satisfied her urge to keep him informed.

        Sometimes we also have to find what works best in a friendship.

        Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu February 2, 2015 / 2:22 pm

        oh sweetheart! me story teller, maybe in a past life but not this one. In this I just listen to what others are saying and nod my head in agreement or shake it in disagreement 😛 but you know this already.
        I already have an idea of which to send. We can be talking about them once read

        Liked by 1 person

  11. clickpresh February 1, 2015 / 8:49 pm

    Maybe its not a social media thing…

    I guess we are less concerned about others than we were…

    Liked by 1 person

      • clickpresh February 2, 2015 / 7:16 am

        And we make the mistake of thinking social media will be of much valuable help…

        Like

      • outlanderspecies February 2, 2015 / 7:54 am

        People just need to be more of friends. I have e-friends that although I have never met, I know them in and out vis social media.
        A lot of guys just don’t know how to be friends

        Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 2, 2015 / 11:55 am

      There is that. It’s not a very recent problem, but you have to admit there’s a lot of shallowness encouraged on SM. So ut might not be the problem, but it does escalate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. outlanderspecies February 1, 2015 / 7:24 pm

    I always maintain that true convo is in listening and trying to be friends even if you want other things. Know what questions to ask and be polite.

    Only then can you connect beyond the “How is the weather” convo.

    Funnier is that I actually know people I chat with more than they know me simply because they don’t ask

    Liked by 1 person

    • uju February 2, 2015 / 11:54 am

      Okay so basically too many people are trying to talk so much and many others are not paying enough attention.
      Maybe we don’t care as much as we should? I once read the message an old friend put up on fbk and the ensuing comments just made my blood run cold. I wasn’t aware people could be really mean to someone they call ‘friend’. Suffice to say he was hurt.

      More questions and less talking? 🙂

      Like

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