Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m of a different generation. Technology is foreign to me, and will never be second nature as a means of communication. And even I can see the benefits of it. Instead of having to find a phone to tell someone you’re late, you can send them a text, and I can respond to emails or send them, at any crazy hour for me, despite international time differences, and without having to track someone down by phone. So I get it, and without question, it’s convenient. I can communicate with anyone I need to in business, at any hour, and respond to inquiries from them about everything from titles, to jacket covers, to music for a radio ad, or editing issues with my editor. Or communicate with my kids, without intruding on them, or calling them at a bad time at work. BUT, and there is a big BUT here, I think these modern technological conveniences are severely overused, in ways I find alarming, on the spectrum of human exchanges and relationships. I am ALL for the text saying “plane landed an hour late, I won’t be home for another hour” or “traffic on bridge, will be 20 minutes late” That kind of text message can be a godsend.
More and more of my kids’ friends, in their early and mid 20’s, complain to me that relationships start now by text, and worse, end by text. I hear it from my own friends, and it has happened to me too. The last man who told me he loved me did so for the first time by email, which kind of robs you of a special moment. I also find that often relationships that begin and get established by email are ‘fraudulent’ and virtual, and not real. When faced with the real human being, they either lose their nerve, or realize they were living a fantasy, and it all falls apart. (The man who announced so lavishly by email that he loved me, didn’t really want to see me when I got back to San Francisco, and disappeared entirely within 2 weeks. So what was that?). I would think that I had been targeted by a weirdo, but I hear stories like it all the time. And the last serious relationship I had was conducted in great part by long text messages, attempting to resolve some knotty problems (that I sure can’t resolve in abbreviations in a text message) by text, and the relationship ultimately ended by text. To me, it seems an appalling abuse of this convenient form of technology, and misuse of it is not exclusive to the young, but occurs in my generation as well. And the last marriage proposal I had (from my ex-husband) was by cell phone. Overuse, and abuse, of these forms of technology robs us of some truly important moments in a relationship: whether a declaration of love, a proposal, or even getting dumped (though it may be less traumatic to get dumped by text, it seems so incredibly disrespectful and so inadequate). I would think it’s just me, but I hear these stories all the time, from every age group. And there are tragedies that occur by text too. When the best friend of one of sons committed suicide a few years ago, it seemed as though an army of people had texted with him only that day and suspected nothing. But NO ONE had talked to him, and heard something off, or even despair, in his voice. And even more tragically perhaps, a young woman friend of my children had a fatal car accident last year, texting while she was driving, illegal perhaps but a common practice on the road.
Texting and even emailing are just too impersonal to be used when it involves human emotions. Also, I find that texting allows one to show off, to be clever, and have the last word. You don’t have the advantages and disadvantages of a real exchange, of hearing that person’s voice and batting the conversational ball back and forth. I really think that in this case, technology does not serve us well. It has become a substitute for real exchanges between real humans and everything that goes with it, good and bad. It allows people to hide behind their words, and mask who they really are. And it cheats us of some really great moments. I’m sorry, but how memorable is it if you get proposed to, or told someone loves you, by text??? I want to hear their voice, look into their eyes, and get the real thrill of the moment. And being ‘dumped’ by text is beyond humiliating, even more so than the real deal.
Recently a young woman I admire greatly, in her 40’s says that the moment she wakes up in the morning, she checks her BlackBerry and responds to her emails, before saying good morning to her live-in partner, or getting out of bed. A thirty year old woman I know said that she and her husband lie in bed and night and send texts to other people, and ‘check their apps’ (I’m so antiquated I’m not even sure what an ‘app’ is, but I’m almost certain it has nothing to do with sex). For most people who have young families, kids of any age, demanding jobs and busy lives, feeling romantic when you go to bed at night can be a challenge. Feeling sexy at the end of an 18 hour day, with equally tired mates, difficult teenagers, a 2 year old with an earache or stomach flu, an exhausting job, and household chores to do, is damn hard. That’s a challenge to most marriages, you have to fight to overcome. But text messaging in bed at night and checking your ‘apps’ seems like a poor trade off to me. Likewise meals, where the entire family is texting someone else. I have to admit I find it irritating when talking to my kids and they are responding to their texts during the entire conversation with me. They have stressful jobs and their BlackBerrys and smart phones allow them to communicate with the entire world constantly. But you never really have their full attention. It’s just too easy to be constantly distracted by technology, it has intruded on every moment of our lives, some of which we should be spending talking to the people we are standing next to, not texting someone else.
One of my favorite moments of the day in my marriage was that quiet moment and lull before the storm of a busy day, when we would talk to each other, cuddle for a moment (whether or not it led to more) and just talk about whatever was on our minds at the moment. It was a tiny moment in the day before defenses went up, life intervened, and the thousand aggravations of a too busy day could put you in a bad mood or just wear you out. Couples who spend that special moment texting and answering emails are really losing out on some of the intimacy in relationships, which is hard enough to come by these days anyway.
My grousing about it isn’t going to change anything. The young will continue to text each other on every subject, whether about relationships or work. Women and men will continue to get dumped by text, or start relationships by email that will never come to anything. And if I have another relationship, maybe it will all be virtual and happen by text too. I just feel that we are losing an important part of our humanity, we’re losing out, and have lost moments that are memorable and far more meaningful in person, or even over a phone, than in 140 characters or less, in an abbreviated text. And for those in intimate relationships, it seems worth thinking about what they’re losing or giving up in the hours spent every day, texting or emailing, instead of turning to the person sitting, or standing, or lying in bed next to them, and just smiling at them, and enjoying a moment of intimacy with them.