In Praise of Private Correspondence

Increasingly, I wonder about the limits of fully open, public, social media conversations. These large-scale, thoroughly transparent, forum-like discussions surely have their place, but of late I have been finding great value in emails/DM/private dialogues and exchanges, which seem far more akin to actual conversations. These dialogues are less concerned about posturing a public persona or establishing a stance that will land “on the record.”

I think, fundamentally, what we are searching for in communication is correspondence itself: a sense that the wavelengths of our meanings are, in fact, intersecting.

In an age that champions transparency — as I do, as well — this confession may at first be scandalous: if you ask me a question on a public forum and then again during a private coffee date, you may very well receive two different answers from me. Not necessarily contradictory answers, but different answers just the same. Simply put, we comport ourselves differently in our living rooms than we do in the public sphere of the town square. The public eye bears consequence: it changes what we say and do. It must. Our closest loved ones know this better than anyone. Assuming ourselves to behave identically in every social context is not to suppose some great sense of moral character or integrity — it is self-delusion.

I imagine the stream and medium of private correspondence as characteristically different than a public forum. Sharing ideas in the closure of a limited, trusted space fosters a transmission of thought patently different than the exchanges at the city gates. Not ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in quality and importance, but simply different, and yet equal in necessity.

Of course, immense worth lies in the matter of our public discourses — and we ought to heighten the breadth (and depth) of forums that are open to every voice and participant… But not at the expense of curtailing direct interactions with audiences of one. For here I seem more obliged to ruminate, and perhaps less compelled to perform.

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