Screaming into the void—that’s what my friend called it. When you’re up at a dark and ungodly hour, having held to your chest a thousand maudlin feelings throughout the course of the day, and you feel the need to let this all out, for some strange reason, as a mad chain of cryptic tweets. Barely anyone’s up and online, so your posts just kind of get thrown into an empty patch of cyberspace. Like taking your tantrum out on your pillow because you know it’s harmless, because the muffled sound of your anger is soothing. Like yelling into a canyon to see if anything echoes back, hoping something echoes back, hoping something doesn’t. Screaming into the void.
It was a couple of weeks ago when I asked a few of my friends, what the hell is TinyLetter? The emergence of a new social media platform thingy irked me. As if we needed more of those. The most adequate response to my question, which I posed on my Twitter, was “Para siyang blog pero mas ~ intimate ~” (complete with whimsical squigglies). I suppose that’s apt. Owning a TinyLetter means that whatever letter you write is sent out directly to the email addresses of the subscribers of your account. That’s where it shows up. Not on a dashboard or a feed you can breezily scroll past. It’s sent to their emails, giftwrapped with a subject line, and mindful of its recipients. Every post is a dedication. A message for you.
I’m thinking of all the ways humankind has tried to use technology to bring us all together. But just as prevalent as that notion is the worn-out and oft repeated fear that social media distances us. Twitter’s a wall of decorative quotables, Facebook is a mere networking tool, tumblr is a mess of uncited sources. Strangely enough, what TinyLetter did wasn’t add more distinguishing features, but remove the basic ones. You can’t “like” a letter, you can’t comment on a letter, you can’t reblog one. You can’t even edit the stuff you send out, whether typed drunk or sober. All you can do is send, and all that can be done is respond. Communication in what I believe is its purest form.
The first time I used TinyLetter, I wrote something on my fear of people leaving. I wrote about how graduation was about a month away for me, and looked back at those four years I spent in college and how many bridges I burnt and how many ghosts I made in those fires. It was surprising, watching myself pour out a personal and deep-seated form of nervousness, perhaps aimed at people I haven’t seen in months. But I wrote not in a way I’d write for a personal blog. A blog was still a place where I could curate little bits of my identity, where each post was still attached to me in some way. But I was writing a letter. I was writing a letter with the same fervor I felt when I scribbled into lined pages torn from notebooks, the kind passed around in class, the kind crumpled after a moment’s hesitation then smoothened back into little ridges, the kind given to a lover with the hope that they keep it folded in their wallet like a tiny souvenir. The words came from me, but like placing a lock on a bridge, they weren’t mine anymore. They now belonged to someone else.
There were evenings when I could see everyone on my feed screaming (or whispering, or whimpering) into the void. A subtweet for the douchebag whom you overheard make a sexist remark. A secret admission for the happy crush you make eyes at during history class. Harsh words directed at an uncertain future. A chain of destructive criticisms you reserve only for yourself, like punching a wall just to make your knuckles sore. All of that, sent out not because a response was expected, but because there was nowhere else to go.
To my friends, I considered TinyLetter an outlet for things I wish I could say that can’t normally fit through the cracks of casual conversation. To the people I didn’t know who subscribed to my little piece of internet, I had made a contract. You are free to be my friend. I’m already telling you this much, in this fashion.
After sending out my first letter, I was still unsure of what this new platform could do for me, until a person I had met only once—and hope to see again, in due time—welcomed me with a reply. We shared a common fear of how we present ourselves in the world, with the best parts of ourselves carefully hand-picked and laid out in front. “So little feels authentic these days,” she wrote, and I agreed, wholeheartedly. But my god, we are striving.
We’ll always try finding new ways to connect with strangers, I think. I’m speaking now as someone who never got on the livejournal bangwagon, and was recently told that it aimed to do the same thing. In this respect, TinyLetter is hardly revolutionary. And yet, still welcome, as another means for us to shake ourselves just a little bit from the iron clutch of timidity, and acquaint ourselves with a stranger whose inner worlds might bear a striking resemblance to ours. Social media may now hold the sullied reputation of driving people apart, instead of connecting, but it tries. And people, with all their foibles and missteps and awkward stabs at cleverness, sometimes fail at making friends, but they’ll always, always try.
So. Dear friend. Whether or not you have someone to spend your love on this February, here’s to always trying. Letter-writing apparently isn’t dead, and you’re full of life, and surely, you must have a lot to say. Looking forward to hearing from you.