The death of the 3 AM conversation

When I was in college, “Social Media” as it exists now didn’t really well, exist. In fact, on my very first day of college, when I sat down to email my family, I realized I really had no idea how to email people. By the time I got to be a junior and senior, pretty exciting things were going on. Livejournal was born. Amazing technology like AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ was the big rage. I mean,  I could talk to my friends over summer vacation without jogging up a big phone bill. Amazing! But Twitter, Facebook, blogging? Eh. Hadn’t really caught on, at least not in the circles I was in.

I am really thankful for that.

A lot of my time in college was spent getting to know people. We’d have long talks that would start at midnight and really get going around 3 or 4. Sometimes a person would ping me via IM or via our campus’s broadcast system and ask if I was awake. When I’d say yes I’d hear a light knock on my door and we’d start talking about whatever was bothering them.

I wonder if college kids do that as much now.

As I got to know and talk to more and more people, I realized there was a pattern that I identified as the “3 AM conversation.” After awhile going over sort of trivial things, often times, due to fatigue or who knows what else, people would suddenly start talking about things that they didn’t normally talk about. I’d find out that this person I knew had been abused as a child. Maybe they had tried to kill themselves. Maybe a past girlfriend or boyfriend had been lost due to suicide. Maybe they had had health problems when they were young. And I would share my stuff too. We’d sit there and talk about all of this pretty heavy stuff, give each other a hug, and then either finally go to sleep or decide to take a 5 AM trip to McDonalds.

Everyone, even the people who seemed the happiest, had a 3 AM conversation topic.

Nowadays, with the capacity to share everything and anything with hundreds or even thousands of people, I wonder if people still have these 3 AM conversations. I wonder if people still feel ok about sitting down with a friend and saying, “Hey, look, this is on my mind.” I wonder if people still feel like it’s cool to unburden themselves in an environment where they know the worst that will happen is they’ll be surrounded with knowing glances and possibly Chicken McNuggets.

Sure, with a blog post you can reach a lot of people, but I’ve noticed something about those really personal blog posts. No matter how much they may break my heart, no matter how much I care about the blogger, it’s not the same. Sitting there and typing how much you care about that person in a little dialog box is not the same. Even writing an email, which is more personal, is not the same. When someone is lifting up a bandaid, you don’t want to keep them waiting for 7 hours while they wait to see if anyone cares. And what is the right response, anyway? I’m never sure. Do I pour my own heart out in a comment box? Do I say everything I want to say, like, “Wow, I can’t believe that happened to you because you are so dear to me”? Do I let it pass and figure that the person probably feels better now that they got that off their backs? Do I share the post, which always seems to demean the importance of it?

Can you differentiate the really good listeners when you get comments on a blog post that is about something painful? Can you distinguish between the caring people and the people who want to get noticed on a post they feel will get a lot of attention?

Do you know that I would really listen if we were face-to-face and you were having a problem?

Technology is amazing. The blogging experience is amazing. But I’m not sure I can be happy about blogging replacing those 3 AM conversations. Even if, in my old and wizened 30s, 3 AM may now be, like, 1 AM. I worry that the authors of these personal blog posts will be left feeling empty because getting comments is not the same as getting immediate in-person feedback and understanding. I worry that I will become immune to such posts because I don’t hear the voice. I don’t see facial expressions. I just see words and whatever mood I care to reflect onto them.

I guess I just want to say that while a lot of people are using the online world to call for help, that may not be the only or the best pathway. Even though it’s hard, calling someone, skyping, “hanging out” on G+….these things may be better if you’re having a hard time. Getting that immediate response, that personal response, without all of the “social media crap” that can surround personal posts, may be better for you. Hearing legitimate care in one person’s voice may be more soothing than receiving 100 retweets. In fact, I’m rather certain of that.

Just because you *can* share your troubles online does not always mean that that will be the most helpful road. And if you are going through a hard time, I wanted to just nudge you and say, “Hey…there are other ways to reach out to people who can give you genuine and 100% legitimate care.” Reach out and revisit that 3 AM conversation.

And take care.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/franciscoiurcovich/3550150437/ via Creative Commons

23 comments
RicDragon
RicDragon

My 14-year old boy is living a little golden-age of 3am conversations. HIs friends come over, and they stay up all night chatting, and when we come downstairs in the morning, they're all in a big sleeping heap like seals on a Newfoundland beach.

I enjoyed my share of those conversations of my own. And as I recollect, often had a pint of Haagen Daz along with it. Now, I can't possibly eat that much ice cream, and really, I'm pretty sleepy by midnight. But I sure am glad I had those conversations while I could.

Perhaps in our different ages, our different stages of life - just perhaps - different ways of having conversations makes sense.

ScottAllen1
ScottAllen1

1:10am, and here we are, having a conversation. :-) A 3-way conversation, at that, since @nealschaffer is the one who invited me to join this conversation.

I've actually been known to have a 1am conversation with a friend on Twitter or Facebook chat, and then pick up the phone or Skype each other to take the conversation deeper. Since I no longer live in a dorm, walking distance from a 24-hour restaurant, that IS my 3am conversation, and I love it!

caroljsroth
caroljsroth

One phrase leaps to mind- quality vs quantity.... great post as always

bdorman264
bdorman264

And what's that phone number? Social makes some people more comfortable letting it all out in here because even though there are many listening, there is still a certain amount of anonymity to it. A lot of people don't have a 'go-to' person to really talk to and social provides this for them in a way.

But I know what you are saying, and I was way before internet so we frequently had the 3 am's and somewhat alcohol induced but we did get the conversations to a deeper level. I miss the story telling aspect of it; those were good times indeed.

Good post, thanks for sharing this with us.

CateTV
CateTV

Will be chatting on the phone w someone who popped up in one of my chats last nite asking me "how I am" - since not usual mo - I knew something must be up - jumping on phone call in a bit ...... just got off phone now ... glad I "listened" to the how am I ... look out for each other folks ... we might just be the college roommate, next door neighbor they need :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZ-wrvXDy1U

miraclady
miraclady

Dear Margie -

I am a morning person. So, I would not be good at any meaningful conversations at 3 Am unless it was a death emergency.

But I get your point.

I do have those conversations - but before 8PM. I talk to my sister almost every day. Never by email. And I have a couple of friends I am really close to. They already know where the bodies are buried. So we don't have to start from scratch.

I went to a strict Catholic college also. It was lights out at 10 PM or a nun would come knocking on your door and after a few warnings you had to talk to the Mother Superior. She was not friendly.

I do notice that my phone does not ring that much except for annoying telemarketers. A lot of normal contact does happen on email.

JudyDunn
JudyDunn

So much has changed. I was not a traditional college student, having completed most of my degree after marriage and having a child, but, still, back in the early-mid-70s (yes, I'm that old!) the connections we made were the face-to-face kind. It breaks my heart when I hear about the people in despair who post something on their Facebook wall and the next day you find out that they were saying goodbye shortly before they killed themselves. Just heartbreaking. Because are we really hearing their call for help? Do we think they are just having a bad day? For all the benefits social media has brought, it also creates emotional distance. THanks for this thoughtful post.

jburdadams
jburdadams

agree. we can't let the art of actual face to face conversation die. it's essential and i don't do enough of it. my computer time is limited to around an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, and some hit and miss time, so it's hard to have a real 'chat' conversation per se. There's also too much time lapse after i've made a blog post or Tweet. seems like you have to be connected to your computer all day which i'm not. I'm committed to more in person talk, and trying to find a more effective way to 'talk' in the online world. Maybe G+ hangouts? thanks for your insight.

RealChaseAdams
RealChaseAdams

Where do people find those 3 AM conversations in post-college life?

I think that's the main reason people don't have them. When you graduate college, you leave a place that you had every chance to make relationships with every type of person, simply because they were there. I don't know of any place like that, unless you're lucky enough to be at a workplace where they facilitate an environment, that allows you to continue it.

It's sad, but social media has provided the outlet that nothing else has for people outside of college.

Good thoughts margie. :D

suddenlyjamie
suddenlyjamie

I"m grateful for the opportunities blogging and other forms of social media give us to share about ourselves and with each other, but I don't think anything will ever - could ever - replace an in-person conversation. At least, I hope nothing ever will.

I have many rich and wonderful online relationships with people all over the world and I treasure each one, but it's a different dynamic to email or text or tweet than it is to have a "real world" get together. Even the phone and Skype (though a rung up on the intimacy ladder) don't have the same feeling as being in the same room with someone. There is a whole other layer of non-verbal ways that we communicate, and the person-to-person connection - though it can make some topics harder to broach - ultimately leads to more intimate sharing.

Still, with how busy we all are, I'm glad we can now have a sort of 3AM conversation via digital mediums. It's better than nothing and can sometimes lead to that real world meeting that makes all the difference.

NancyD68
NancyD68

I have a good friend who comes over about once a week and we talk over coffee. When she comes over, we talk for several hours and span many subjects. It was during one of those chats that she told me that her father was abusive and that is why she has nothing to do with him. During another chat, she told me something else that was very personal.

Since losing the apartment, our talks have been more frequent. I can tell people I care, but a phone call. or even Skype is much better. I love Skype. Anyhow, that is my version of the 3am visit. I always liked those kinds of talks the best.

Janice aka JPlovesCOTTON
Janice aka JPlovesCOTTON

Margie, Interesting you should have this thought as a couple of my college friends and I talked about the same thing New Years weekend! Based on some of the college kids we have around, the answer for us is it depends. My niece who's in grad school loves the 3 am convo but I have friends who we wonder if their kids in college even have real face-to-face convos at all!

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@bdorman264 That's an interesting point...anonymity. Hmm. And yet, our faces are all over the internet, tied to our names. Heck, my site is my name. How anonymous is that. And yet...

Very interesting nuance there. Thanks, Bill!

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@CateTV You are a wonderful soul, Ms. Cate. Thank you for sharing. Yes, we do need to be aware of those subtle undercurrents in people, don't we?

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@miraclady Time optional, but of course :)

Things like letters and phonecalls are slowly being eeked out of existence, and it makes me really sad. Few things were more cheerful (or annoying) than hearing the phone ring just as you were coming in with an armful of groceries. Now you just let people text you or get to it later. It seems like the really personal aspects of relationships aren't really priorities anymore.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@JudyDunn Great point, Judy. And even more shocking is when people respond to those cries for help with jokes and abuse. There are way too many stories like that. Why depend on the kindness of strangers in those situations? It is way too risky for my liking, and sometimes it can really backfire.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@jburdadams That is one of the great riddles of the online world. You make a tweet. Do you have to sit there and wait for someone to reply so that you can answer right away? I used to get really stressed about that but I'm loosening up a bit. I've experimented and have come to realize that if I don't respond to someone's tweet right away, the world continues to rotate. What a relief, right?

But if a person is writing a very heart-wrenching post that they hope will garner some responses, how long are they willing to wait? Maybe the longer they wait the more they feel people really don't care. That can become very dangerous indeed.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@RealChaseAdams Hmm. That's an interesting point. Maybe telephone calls (or Skype) and things like hang-outs are the compromise. Talk to those friends from the college days. Talk to your new friends. We're all spread out now, so getting together can be hard, but we have this great tool to use to make those distances smaller.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@suddenlyjamie I quite agree with you! There is a lot that can be read in facial expressions, body language, tonality...all kinds of stuff that we don't even really think about in this here online world. Everybody just keeps their same avatar, whatever that may be, and that is what we get accustomed to talking to. It's not all bad, but if you are reaching out for help, I feel like personal might be better.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@Janice aka JPlovesCOTTON I remember my senior year we were starting to IM each other from across the hall, and we'd laugh about that. I hope those conversations continue. People DO need them!