"Just Between You, Me and the Fencepost"
Margaret M. Sprague on 11/09/2011
"Amie" - a magazine for women on the Connecticut Shoreline, was the first product of my fledgling company in 1980. I always began my Publisher’s Letter with "Just between you, me and the fencepost," a quote remembered from my childhood.
My German grandmother used those words whenever beginning to chat with a neighbor or friend about something close to home. Sometimes they actually were visiting over the woven-wire fence at the back of her extensive fruit and vegetable garden. Other times they were in her parlor or on the front porch, but they were face-to-face. And, there were only two of them chatting; the fencepost did not hear, speak or take action after their conversation.
Today Grandma’s quote has almost no meaning – neighbors, friends and family do their chatting in cyberspace. The words exchange, but the distance they travel is no longer the few inches taken up by the fence. Through the miracles of technology, the words can as easily travel from Connecticut to China as from one backyard to another.
Facebook, Twitter and others can show thumbnail photos of the conversationalists, Skype can show video of the chat in real time, but something is lost. The two chatting cannot touch, they cannot smell, they cannot taste - during their chat.
Grandma could have placed her hand on the arm of her neighbor as she heard sad words across the fence. She could have handed over a fragrant fresh flower - or a pear, still warm from her tree, to taste. They were communicating on more levels, they were truly neighborly; they were able to understand each other very well.
The lack of fences, the deletion of distance as a factor in communication, does not serve society well. Taking chats away from the human touch and the human heart can actually turn that chat into a self-contained inhuman action.
When a chat between two persons on cellphones can – in a matter of minutes – develop into a mass invasion against a merchant’s property, it proves that communication now is fast, it’s accurate. But we should remember that “good fences make good neighbors.”