Mary-Joan Gerson PhD

Mary-Joan Gerson Ph.D.

The Cyberspace Connection

Emboldened by Email: Walking the Talk

Hiding under the electronic blanket

Posted Mar 25, 2015

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Source: Shutterstock

Is email good for relationships or not?  Does it foster connectedness? Does it allow for the confessional moment which face to face contact inhibits? OR does email (as well as its cousin, texting) provide a constant distraction from being present with one another?  Does it distract us from thinking about ourselves, which requires space and emptiness and quiet?

We all wonder about these questions, but what I find most fascinating about my answers is that they are all person dependent. It matters who I’m thinking about, in which particular relationship. This is precisely what I like most about being a psychotherapist (psychoanalyst and family therapist), and makes me most opposed to manualized treatment. Our psyches are like snow flakes. Yes I think that all the theory I learned in graduate school and postdoctoral training is useful and relevant, but only when it becomes focused like a laser beam on the particular couple or person I’m working.

It’s for this reason that I found Hana Schank’s N.Y.Times article, “Writing My Way to a New Self” on March 22 so compelling (opinionator.blogs.nytimes). Schank describes  how in the past she had a split interpersonal experience: shy in public/passionate in private and in no way could bridge those “selves”. What a discovery that email could do it.  After all, the fluidity and spontaneity of writing an email is different from writing a letter; our fingers move across the keyboard for googling and ordering as unselfconsciously as we breathe. This digital (fingers and electronics)  translates into a unique kind of communication—half-way between self-consciousness and directness. It’s like the halfwayness that daydreaming offers—between the  unconsciousness and the intentional.

For some of us, emailing is deadening and suppressing; we come alive with embodied contact and are fueled by the facial expressions of our companions. For others of us, the partial shield of the machine allows just that leap into courageous contact. Ancient Greek philosophers had it right: Let’s know ourselves and use whatever it takes to let others know us too.

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