SC Log #5 Letters, taking the easy way out

SC is something I made up in the spur of the moment, it stands for Soliciting Contacts, Somewhere Cellular, and Strenuously Challenging. Some background on this and the list of SC logs so far.

In life, a lot of things are two-way streets. If you want to find someone to talk to, that person also has to want to talk to you. Otherwise, nothing is going to happen. So if you go around looking for people who don’t want to be found, people who don’t want to talk to you, you’re going to get just that, the silent rejection of being ignored. While I could practice the rejection therapy, that’s just one of the side quests. The more important main quest is to interact with 30 people by the end of this month.

On a side note, making phone calls is a side quest I really want to complete. But how many people feel comfortable receiving, let alone making, phone calls? These days, no one ever calls to say hi anymore. Everything is done via text and if you make a spontaneous call, the person you’re calling might even freak out thinking there’s an emergency or something. If you really want to call, the norm is to schedule it like how you would an appointment. How weird is that?

So I tried making a post about “spontaneous phone calls” in an online community I’m part of and the replies confirmed that the concept feels foreign and most people aren’t interested. Then, I suddenly remembered this concept of pen-pals, people who write letters to each other, often living in faraway places. Does the concept of phone-pals also exist? Nope, but what if I were to start finding pen-pals instead? What if, instead of chasing after phone calls, I try writing and sending letters instead? It’s a complete 180-degree shift from making phone calls but why not?

Interestingly, there’s even this app called Slowly that simulates what it feels like to send actual letters. You send your letter but there’s a delay to when your pen-pal will receive it, and that delay is based on the physical distance between you both. Fascinating, isn’t it?

So, where did that lead me? Six pen-pals in the span of a few days, and since it takes half a day to two days to send a letter, depending on distance, communication has been slow. Just the way it should be, the complete opposite of a phone call. And what do you know, the experience was pretty exciting too. One of them even asked if I’m okay with exchanging actual letters, how cool is that? Naturally, I said yes just to see what happens, but it will be a while before it arrives, I wonder how exchanging actual letters will feel like.

We are halfway through September so how’s my progress so far? Still no reply from contact #8, I’ve had better luck with contact #9 but it took a while to get a reply and organize a call. I tried to call contact #10 a few times but no answer, left a message on his phone instead but I’m not sure if he’ll reply anytime soon. It’s September so I guess he’s hibernating somewhere. No reply from contact #11, contact #12 gave a reply but went silent afterward, might just be busy or something, I don’t know. And contact #13 to #18 are all pen-pals from Slowly. How fascinating, I’m not sure if it’s cheating to count pen-pals but I might as well given how successful they were compared to the previous few contacts.

Last but not least, contact #19 was pretty interesting. I was walking to town one day, usually a 10~15 minute walk under the hot sun, he was driving by and stopped to offer me a ride. Now, in situations like these, it’s normal to be at least a bit cautious/wary/hesitant but since it’s September and I’m doing this social challenge, why not? It turns out, he’s not an axe-murderer-serial-killer-rapist-mafia-gang-member but a regular stranger with a kind-heart. Who knew? I mean, what are the odds? We had a short conversation and not much else, the ride was short but the air-conditioning was refreshing. It’s the tiny moments like these that make life so wonderful.

Another two more weeks to go before I “wake up” from this dream, I wonder what happens next!


SC Log #4 The fear, the resistance, and the tired

SC is something I made up in the spur of the moment, it stands for Slothy Cravings, Stoic Creatures, and Spontaneous Calls. Some background on this and the list of SC logs so far.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t get any easier and things are just as difficult as they were yesterday. Every time a speaker goes on stage, it’s the same fear, the same anxiety, and the same risk of failure. Every time a runner runs a marathon, it’s the same 26.2 miles, the same one foot in front of the other, and the same tiredness.

Everyone experience the same difficulty, it doesn’t change depending on the person. Every speaker feels the same tingling feeling before a big speech and the fear of accidentally messing up. Every runner feels the same tiredness when running 26.2 miles at their competitive pace and the desire to just stop to catch their breath and rest a bit. Yet, what differentiates the good speakers and runners from the not so good ones?

Perhaps it’s not just because they are better speakers or runners. Perhaps the speaker knows where to put the fear so it doesn’t bother her, perhaps the runner knows where to put the tired so it doesn’t bother her. Because, the fear and the tiredness, they’re always going to be there whether you like it or not. Maybe all you need to do is to find a place to put it so it doesn’t bother you?

I’ve been rather busy and tired with work recently and it’s going to continue for a while, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing this SC project thing, it’s just a matter of me prioritizing sleep over writing these log files.

Continuing from the previous log, I didn’t do much else with contact #4, it was just a brief conversation over text but I think I might try again once I have more spare time in my hands. Contact #5 reached out to me instead so that was quite a pleasant surprise. Again, it was just a short chat over text because of both our busy lives but I will make sure to initiate a call sometime in the coming weeks.

Next, I moved on to contact #6 and we had a nice long call that lasted more than an hour I believe. He didn’t really know what I was calling for and why but he accepted the invitation anyway, it turned out to be a rather interesting conversation too as we talked about a bunch of different topics. A conversation with a person whose face I’ve never seen, whose voice I’ve heard for the first time that night, and whose life I know little about.

On the other hand, my call with contact #7 was much shorter, perhaps 10X as short. It can’t be helped I guess, I called him out of the blue. I mean, I saw his number on my contact list and spontaneously made the call. Turns out, he’s still using the same number after all these years! I’m going to have to call again to properly catch up some other time.

I’ve also reached out to contact #8 but no replies yet and I think it’s about time I post that open invite I’ve been considering on that online community I’m part of. Let’s see how it goes.

SC Log #3 Things to talk about

SC is something I made up in the spur of the moment, it stands for Strong Courage, Superficial Creativity, and Something Cute. Some background on this and the list of SC logs so far.

When you approach random strangers on the street and talk to them, what do you usually talk about? Perhaps the question is, do you even talk to random strangers? What about the person living next door or down the hall? Aside from simple pleasantries like the weather and whatnot, what do you talk about?

Continuing from yesterday, I managed to initiate a call with contact #3 and we talked quite a lot about the past, the stuff we’re up to, some of our hobbies, and the things we do for fun. It was very much like talking to an old friend you didn’t know you had, someone who shared a bunch of similar memories with you, it was as if I finally said hi to the person living down the hall.

The whole experience felt quite freeing, I expected the call to last about half an hour or so. There’s probably only so much we can talk about, right? But in reality, the call lasted almost thrice as long as what I had anticipated and I learned a great deal about a lot of things. Granted it was somewhat vague but it opened a flood of old memories, memories I didn’t even remember I had.

It felt great, as if I didn’t need to justify anything, not the anxiety before the call, the what-should-I-say-next panic attacks, or even the is-this-really-a-good-idea self-doubt. In the end, it simply felt freeing to have done that.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve initiated contact and had a very brief chat with contact #4 but I’m not sure if I want to go ahead with the call. Given what happened earlier, I think I should but that annoying little voice in my head is still whispering a bunch of excuses here and there. Starting tomorrow, I will be very busy at work so I might just keep it at the level of casual texting and move on. We shall see.

SC Log #2 Safer to do the difficult

SC is something I made up in the spur of the moment, it stands for Super Crazy, Social Cure, and Somewhat Cringeworthy. Some background on this and the list of SC logs so far.

Sometimes, it’s safer to do the riskier stuff. There’s this idea that it’s actually safer to do the difficult than the easy. That it’s safer for me to reach out to long lost contacts that might not remember me compared to people I met a few years ago.

When you reach out to the guy from the distant past, the guy who might not remember you, you’re actually playing it safe. Because your expectation is failure, you know that it will be awkward trying to rekindle with an old classmate you’re not very familiar with, you know that the conversation will be filled with a lot of pauses and awkward silences.

That’s okay because you expected that, you know it’s not easy, that’s why you did it. If it didn’t go well, it didn’t go well. What do you expect? But if it did go well, that’s just an awesome bonus! It’s almost like a risk-free attempt at reconnecting with old classmates, there are no downsides because it’s the expectation, and the unlikely upside is incredible, it’s almost like winning-the-lottery incredible.

But alas, the chances of winning the lottery are tiny. That’s why people don’t get disappointed if they didn’t win the lottery. And so, I have no luck with contact #2 but he might just be busy or something. I’ll give it a few more days and see what happens. In the meantime, I’ve initiated contact with contact #3 (also another long lost contact) and we shall see what happens next.

As a quick overview, this is my plan of attack. Contact #1~5 would be long lost contacts from a decade or so ago, #6~10 would be members from an online community I’m part of, #11~15 would be people I’ve met in the past few years and I plan to give them a call directly instead of initiating through text, #16~20 would be strangers from the internet, #21~25 would be old contacts from my dormant-and-very-much-neglected social media account, and #26~30 would be local strangers perhaps?

I might change things as I progress but that’s the gist of what I’m hoping and expecting to do anyway. Let’s see what happens next!

SC Log #1 Childhood dreams

SC is something I made up in the spur of the moment, it stands for September Challenge, Satisfying Curiosity, and Seeking Connections. Some background on this and the list of SC logs so far.

When we were young, we used to talk about dreams but fast forward a decade or so, we talk about reality, our university majors, and the jobs we are doing. We just don’t talk about the unrealistic fantasies anymore and in many ways, we’ve probably outgrown our old selves.

Dreams are the real deal, they reflect who we used to be, our aspirations, and it reflects the change we want to see in ourselves and the world around us. You want to be a firefighter not because it made you lots of money, but because you can put out fires and save lives. You want to be a teacher not because of fame or social status, but because you want to teach and help shape the next generation. You want to be a translator not because it gives you security for living a comfortable life, but because it breaks the language barrier and made the inaccessible more accessible.

But society, peer pressure, and our parents have a way of influencing us. They redirect us away from unrealistic childhood fantasies and towards the cold hard reality of the modern world we live in. The world of money, social status, bragging rights, and the security of living a comfortable life in this volatile economy.

A decade is a long time and a lot can happen so it’s not surprising that the childhood friend you used to know is no longer the same person anymore. And dreams rarely do come true, as much as we want them to, reality comes along and squashes them like the little bugs they seem to be.

But what do I know? I don’t even remember my own childhood dream so I reached out to an old friend and asked about hers. An old friend, one who I’ve completely lost contact with for the past decade or so, one whose childhood dream I still remember.

Initiating contact was easy, so was the waiting part, the hard part came in knowing what to say next once I got my reply. There’s only so much to talk about through text, and initiating an audio call seems like a rather high hurdle for me right now. We texted a bit about childhood dreams (she didn’t remember hers), university and the working life, and not much else really. Maybe this is what it means to grow up and be a grown-up?

It was very underwhelming but what else can I expect, a decade of lost contact is a really long time. So what’s next? I’ve managed to throw a line through the decade wide chasm and poked a tiny little hole through the walls of neglect and no contact. What now? Or rather, what happens next?

Honestly, I don’t know. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll have to move on to contact #2 out of 30. I can’t help but feel that the effects are going to compound and by the end of September, I would be juggling between multiple contacts.



Seeking to connect with others

August is ending and soon it will be September all over again, a busy month to say the least, but I’m about to make it even busier.

For the month of September, I want to reach out to old friends, acquaintances, and fellow internet users, roughly a person per day, and try to connect with them, either through text or audio call. The goal is to get to know people, practice talking, get comfortable initiating contact, and get used to the stings of rejection.

By the way, if you’re interested in this, feel free to contact me and we’ll work something out. I’m giving myself the 30 days in September to work on this, that means an average of 30 people and who-knows-how-many ignored texts and rejections.

In addition to that, I would also like to practice interviewing people and recording the conversation, with permission of course. It’s not just to become a better conversationalist, I also want to build the skill as I think it would be helpful when doing independent research or journalism. Perhaps I can start tackling bigger topics and write longer articles with proper citations, not just those limited to a few hundred words on a narrow and specific topic.

With that, wake me up when September ends.

Online education

Whatever you want to learn, there’s probably already a book written about it or an online course or a video series uploaded somewhere on the internet. That’s great for the students, but what about the teachers? Do we even need that many teachers if anyone can just learn whatever they want from books and online videos? And to quote The Graveyard Book:

Her father taught particle physics, but there were, Scarlett told Bod, too many people who wanted to teach particle physics and not enough people who wanted to learn it, so Scarlett’s family had to keep moving to different university towns, and in each town her father would hope for a permanent teaching position that never came.

At some point, it feels like the main reason why someone would want to learn something is because they want to earn money teaching it. It’s like the blogger who blogs about blogging hoping to monetize her blog, or the guy who created an online course teaching others how to make money online by selling online courses.

I have to ask, just how many people out there are still genuinely interested in learning something? The amount of free or cheap books and online course out on the internet is greater than ever before, just look at OpenCourseWare and edX, they offer thousands of free online courses from actual universities. So if you want to learn about something, or anything really, now is the best time than ever. And yet, online courses have a notoriously low completion rate. Why is that?

Perhaps what we’re missing is the social element, the people who show up, the people who lend a helping hand when we get stuck, the people who stick with us through our journey. Be it a friend or a teacher, perhaps that is the missing link when it comes to online education?