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Labun Jordan: Cyber Love

02/14/12 7:55AM By Helen Labun Jordan
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(Host) When social networks are something you have online, and side-by-side texting replaces conversation, it seems as if there’s little hope for personal communications in the modern age. But Commentator Helen Labun Jordan has a more optimistic perspective.

(Labun Jordan) When it comes to Valentine’s Day, a lot of people I know dismiss it as the “Hallmark Holiday” – something used to boost gift sales rather than celebrate love.

For the record, I’m not one of those dismissive people. I want champagne and dark chocolate and a chance to wear a red dress. But what really gives me pause is the phrase everyone uses – we’re summarizing all of Valentine’s Day commerce with a greeting card reference? How many people under the age of 20 send Greeting cards?

For that matter, how many have even sent a love letter? I mean a real letter – the pen and paper kind. The Valentine’s Day tradition in my high school was to send all your friends a love letter; and I still have some, complete with handwriting as distinctive as the person who sent it.

A typical response when we realize how personal communications have changed in recent years is some variation on “Kids these days.” There’s an assumption that people interacting through text messages or Facebook posts can’t possibly be conveying something as complicated as love.

I wonder about that.

I find it awfully hard to believe that a generation’s decision to omit extraneous letters from their messages necessarily means they’re also omitting fundamental human emotions.

Take Twitter, for example. A traditional Tweet may offer only 140 characters, but haiku is limited to 17 syllables, and it’s still considered poetry.

E-mails are basically letters you don’t lose when you move to a new apartment - and they’re letters that stay with both sender and recipient, even if sometimes you wish they wouldn’t.

Facebook can be downright nostalgic. It lets me reconnect in a moment with friends I haven’t heard from in decades. And I don’t get sentimental over just my own photo albums, but also those of everyone I know.

When you think about it, the digital age actually offers some of the best tools yet to distinguish different levels of meaning in our communications.

Nothing says frivolous better than an emoticon; a thoughtful e-mail can be sincere; and, if I want deeply heartfelt, I can still send that handwritten letter.

And what is Google if not a reminder to understand what’s trivial in our lives and what’s not? A simple search can retrieve every trigonometric function or verb conjugation I ever memorized in high school, but the memories formed with the people I cared about most are my own responsibility.

We need to stop wringing our hands over the texting generation. They’re fine, and they may even have something to teach us.

If we really believe that Valentine’s Day is about marketing, why not take a cue from the most commercial of our unofficial holidays – Black Friday. That annual shopping spree has added its own online component – Cyber Monday. So let’s add one more cyber holiday to follow up our old fashioned love letters and hand- delivered chocolates with learning some more modern tools for communicating. After all, shouldn’t we always welcome new ways to say “I Love You”?
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