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What to Hold Onto, What to Discard

"That it's possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes, I'm not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold onto and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old."
-- Queen Elizabeth II, in her 1957 Christmas message (first one televised); part of the old message was rebroadcast as the beginning of her 2007 message on YouTube.

Her Majesty is one smart cookie! In a couple of lines, she neatly nailed one of the main challenges of modern life: What do we hold onto? What do we discard? How do we use the new without losing the old? Looking back at her message 50 years ago, I wanted to tell the Eisenhower-era Queen, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!" She made her prediction in the early days of TV, before PCs, before cellphones, before BlackBerrys and iPods and Wiis and MySpace and blogs, and before the YouTube now showing her words of half a century ago.

I have many questions, but few answers: Does 21st-century technology really help connect or reconnect us with our families? Our real-world friends? Or just people who "friend" us on social-networking sites but we never meet? Does the current generation think being a "friend" just means forwarding jokes once a month? Do we take enough time to "logout" and spend time getting together, or even talking on the phone, with the people who were in our lives before we stepped into cyberspace? Are we able to take the next step with online friends and bring them into our offline lives? Do we want to?

An Internet "success story" for me is a group of longtime friends, from around the world, who get together every year for five days in a different city. I had not been able to attend for a few years, but during that time, an email list developed that allowed us all to keep in regular touch. So when I finally saw them again this fall, it was like we had never been apart. And being able to share photos online was icing on the cake.

Another bright spot is the accessibility of genealogical information and contacts online. I have been thrilled to connect with fellow descendants of one great-grandfather, thanks to email and family-history websites; the contacts helped me break down a research "brick wall" on that line and add to my "extended family."

I wonder if the bloggers among us share (or want to share) these blogs with parents, grandparents, kids, sisters and brothers, old friends? Do the family members take the time to read their loved ones' words? Are there stories and feelings you blog about but don't tell your family in person? What would happen if you told them? Would your family find out from your blog that they never really knew you at all?

Internet addiction snuck up on me slowly, but I'm definitely in the thick of it now. Partly it's because I realize I am socially awkward and can express myself better in writing. If I have a choice between blogging about something important and trying to manage small talk at a party, there's no contest. Ideally, I'd love small-group in-person gatherings where substantial issues (personal, political, whatever) are being discussed because talks like that feed my mind and spirit, but those are few and far between -- as are local support groups about some areas of particular interest to me. So I read what other people are writing, on blogs and email lists, to think and to learn and to grow. These new resources are a godsend. So are the many news sources available from all over the world.

A recent dinnertime topic with friends was: Do people write love letters any more? When I was dating my husband, ca. 1984, I wrote numerous long letters -- about work, people I knew, politics, us. So did he. Given that we lived about an hour and a half apart and our job schedules didn't let us get together as much as we liked, it was a wonderful way for us to really get to know each other. I ran across some of these letters the other day, and was floored at their length and detail. Do couples use email for that kind of ongoing development of a relationship? And do they print out and save those emails to look back on?

With PlayStations and MySpace and computer games, how often do kids remember to get out into nature and enjoy playing in the (hopefully) fresh air? Do we as parents have to pry them loose from the controls with a crowbar?

There's no question that technology has transformed professional life, although I do question whether that's always a good thing. Is it good for our sanity (not to mention blood pressure!) to always be connected to the office?

What do we hold onto? What do we discard? What are the pros and cons of the high-tech world? I'll continue pondering these questions, and would love to hear your thoughts.

And for those of you who saw the subject line and thought it was an entry about housecleaning, those are good questions, too -- but that's a post for another day :-)

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