Think for a second on how many different ways you can communicate with your family (or friends) this year. Hell, even your boss? Do you use MicrosoftTeams or Zoom? How’s remote work working for you?

Do you call friends? Is your dad on Facebook? I bet even your aunt has an Instagram account. And does anyone have a MySpace account anymore?

The means with which we communicate to those we care most about are not small matters at all. They seem small but they are more significant than we often think about as we tend to daily responsibilities. I’ve been using the internet since I was roughly 12 years old; if I had kept one of my childhood diaries, I believe I was in the sixth grade when dial up was a thing for us. My daughter will never know the dreadful sound to open AOL and for the internet to fail repeatedly. (Ok, I lied. She encountered that this year with the internet going down due to more people using the internet for remote work and online schooling courtesy of the pandemic.) She also does not have to fight with three other sisters for a 20 minute turn to check out what’s new online. Life has a funny way of evolving that may frustrate us in the immediate moment and then, years later, we kind of laugh about it or get blank stares from younger generations who will never experience what we did.

Last night I had the opportunity to listen to a virtual event that I wish to share with you and how it relates to my messages here about military service and society. Our speaker, Lisa Silvestri, talked about her project “Telling War” and I noticed so much between what she uncovered with veterans and service members that I similarly shared through my own efforts. Many of my own contributions, initially, were more raw and it’s only in the more recent past I’ve felt I could better articulate the learning process that occurred as a part of serving and also leaving the Marine Corps for other career and educational prospects. She wrote Friended at the Front: Social Media in the American War Zone and after last night’s event, trust me, I will be picking up a copy to further enhance my own studies of post-9/11 war experiences.

When I began writing this blog years ago, and this is still true, I felt the space for veteran voices was a difficult ground to tread. Originally, I did not plan to write so much of my own story. I did not want to be that vulnerable although I was ok with seeking a personal education about others’ experiences and overlaying that reporting (i.e. news stories and interviews, viral images, etc.) with peer reviewed sources and books I might pick up at Barnes and Noble.

Last night, hunched over my laptop listening over Zoom, I was introduced to a concept I am not sure I’ve heard before: information ecosystem.

I like looking at how people behave in their environment(s) and to learn about how environments differ and somehow I either never HEARD of information ecosystem before or I did not LISTEN when the idea cropped up in any one of the many in-person and online classrooms I’ve been in over the years. We all participate in information ecosystems though and some of the ways we participate are more our choice than choices forced upon us.

My parents brought a personal computer into our home when I was young but as an adult, I could have decided that choice did not suit my lifestyle. Many of the communities I’ve lived in provide computers for public access. The move from using public computers for my work, school, or personal communication purposes to communicating over a personal computer was a value decision. I was wasting too much of my time waiting for public institutions to open and then waiting in line to use a computer for a very small fraction of time, typically a 30 minute limit.

Many people would value the savings generated by using someone else’s computer, internet, and printer services over bearing those costs, but not me. I want to spend more time in my own space tending to my commitments and interests than being at the mercy of other people. This choice is also a matter of privilege. I have the discretionary money to purchase a laptop and internet. Plenty of Americans are not so lucky and this issue is highly visible as our nation struggles now with providing quality education remotely during the pandemic to families who cannot afford some or all of the tools necessary to learn online.

I cannot solve that problem with my blog but I do think it is important to remind people that this issue is still a problem months into the pandemic.

My information ecosystem and the ones discussed in last night’s event are not closed systems. Lisa was correct last night when she talked about how much individuals struggling with interpersonal communication right now due to the pandemic could learn from how deployed service members get through/got through their deployments. The communication tools we used in the past and the present offer different lenses on historical events and personal experiences and we have more tools at our disposal to get through the upcoming holidays if we need to celebrate them physically distanced.

My family and friends were privy to a lot of my sentiments on my first and second tour in Iraq based on my regular entries on MySpace, but each tour came with the additional privileged experience of free mail. I learned today that this program has been in existence since 1986, two years after my birth. Less expedient than social media, one might wonder why I still wrote letters by hand. I think it has to do with the way it feels to open a mailbox. The way it brings back being a kid when the mailbox is full of unexpected messages, not bills. Paper feels differently than seeing an icon on a screen. Paper is different on the eyes than how computer text looks. Paper allows you to see a person through his or her handwriting when you cannot touch that person. I have no record of the total letters I wrote home during my first deployment but I checked in on those kept from my second. I sent 41 unique pieces of correspondence to my husband and three cards.

So what kind of things could the average American learn from our veterans and deployed military members to share with loved ones today across the globe or the country as the pandemic continues to shape the way we live? Nothing is too small to talk about. If it catches your eye or brings a certain emotion to the forefront, talk about those things. Someone might really appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in their struggles or they may be reminded of a time you shared together and it gives them hope for what lies ahead for the future. Have fun and throw your heart out there and breathe a little.

I’ve missed three Thanksgivings, two Christmases, two New Year’s Eve’s, one Valentine’s Day, one birthday, his birthday and my first wedding anniversary due to my or my husband’s deployed status or our military responsibilities stateside. There are other times I’ve missed seeing family back in Rhode Island due to lack of funds or other time commitments. None of it was ideal, but I missed out on a lot less than all the other years where things went right and I could be with my loved ones.

You are stronger than you think, but you are not alone in all this mess.

Stay safe.

2 thoughts on “Free Mail. Or Something Like That.

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