You’ve had this conversation, probably more than once—“social media makes us feel like we’re super connected, but we’re really more isolated than ever, man.”
It isn’t an uncommon point of view.
As a teen and emerging adult I’d deactivate my Facebook again and again. I’d opt for flip phones over smart ones and refuse to take pictures to be more present.
That hasn’t feel like the right answer for me, either.
“What are you thinking about buddy?” my mom would ask all the time when I was a kid. I obviously wanted to connect—at restaurants I’d stare at other tables, listening to what they said.
But, I was so shy, so quiet. I’d hide behind her legs, hugging them. I grew up with three adults on five acres in a pine forest, which was more than enough space for me to create entire worlds in my head.
Even for introverts it’s physiological to want to be around other humans—one leading theory on social anxiety retroactively traces our evolution to a time when being shunned would literally kill us.
Some are wistful for the days of postage.
Dear Person isn’t exactly mail.
Checking my mailbox gives me anxiety and opening packages is a big task, mentally.
I also don’t like email. How impersonal it feels, how its language is an extension of the office workplace performance that I’ve never related to.
But, I learned the power of a letter over email when I was 21 and scared. I was months from graduation and hadn’t published a single thing yet. Becoming a writer felt so impossible that for a year I didn’t create anything.
I’d read in an interview with my favorite poet and biggest inspiration, Matthew Dickman, that you should write your heroes.
So, after months of deliberating with my therapist and with my own head, I wrote him.
He responded in nine days.
Dear Person began with the jubilation I felt reading Matthew’s words. I glowed for a month.
Dear Person combines the connectedness of the internet with the intimacy of a physical letter.
Over 60 people have asked for one, from acquaintances to ex-lovers to total strangers.
I’ve learned in writing them, that connectedness exists outside a life plugged in or out.
Whether on a tablet or notebook page, in sign language or spoken sentences—vulnerability, giving attention and a proactive decision to relate to others will get you closer to a connection than most anything else.
So, dear person. I want to write you a letter.
It will only cost you three words.
Austin Beaton is a poet writer essayist who somewhere in the multiverse is still a kid hurling pinecone baseball pitches. His work has appeared in Porridge Magazine, the Bookend’s Review, Occulum, and elsewhere.
Dear Person is a letter writing campaign to connect strangers in a time of passive technological isolation. Enter three words and your email on the home page and I’ll write you a personally-crafted letter.