Technology and its Discontents: Love Letters or Texting?

20 years ago when I was single and trying to date – technology was a different animal. There was no Facebook, no email, no texting, or cell phones. Your telephone was on your desk at work or in your home. If you were lucky you had call waiting, so a call could come through while you were on another, otherwise you got a “busy signal,” and only in some cases could voicemail be accessed remotely. There was no internet. No finding people online – but there were personal ads in the newspaper (yikes). You couldn’t clear your date ahead of time via Google, you actually had to find out in person whether he was a felon before the third date.
If you liked a boy, you sometimes stayed home waiting by the phone hoping he would call. I may very well have missed an opportunity to connect with a man I still suspect could have been one of my great loves if my phone message had been received. By the time I received his letter, I had taken up with another person and the opportunity was lost. Years later when I shared this with him, we sadly mused what might have been if the messages had gone through in a timely manner. Hell, when I was in college, long distance charges made anything but local calls prohibitively expensive, and if you wanted to get a message to someone – you sent a letter. With a stamp. 2-3 days there. 2-3 days for a response.
High stakes. And if the stars aligned and the calls were received, or letters arrived – then you might go out on the date. You needed to choose a place and time in advance. Because if you were running late, once you were on the road there was no way to tell them that. That’s a lot of investment on the front end. Maybe as a result, we put in a little more effort back then– even at the point of the first date.
I am starting chapter 2. I am divorced, and meeting people again. Armed with a Blackberry, FB, and unlimited texting – I can be reached at all times. Meet a man at 10 PM, and by 11 PM can have Googled him and determined his career trajectory, criminal background, and the faces of every woman he has known on Facebook (that’s a real confidence buster).
When we don’t have to work as hard for something, do we take care of it? If a jacket costs $400 we are more likely to hang it up and treat it with care than we are with a $20 piece of clothing. First dates are easy to come by. We can put ourselves on dating sites, collect phone numbers and texts with machine-gun efficiency, and get a complete dossier before the first date. In fact, first dates today are like 10th dates from my youth. No wonder you end up having sex so much earlier – the data gathering phase is over before coffee comes. And this also means that once the blush is off the rose of a new relationship (4 months) – finding new paramours is too efficient (this is when you decide whether to formalize the relationship or move on).
Almost 100 years ago, Freud wrote “Civilization and Its Discontents”. In essence he argues that civilization is a paradox. It is our great accomplishment as a species – designed to bring us happiness, and it has quite the opposite effect – tethering us to societal expectations that go against the grain of our true nature. Now, technology may be doing the same thing. Too many options. Too easy. We may be burning down on the empty calories of too many options, not enough substance. By not investing as much in these human contacts – are they easier to devalue?
The technology is here to stay. We were once suspicious of the telephone, but that seemed to work out fine. So how can we use it? Dating evolves. Yet, no instant message or dating site photo can replace a smile across a crowded room. In our own fashion we still wait by the phone –not literally at home, but our heart gets stuck in the same limbo as it was back in the days of land lines and before that – love letters. Maybe the structure of relationships will change. Lifelong partnerships may go the way of the dinosaur. Alternatives to monogamy may be floated. Maybe our call to arms now is to stay in the moment with this proliferation of partners. Each a teacher, each a lesson. Despite our new efficiency, maybe love is still as fleeting and hard to find as it ever was.
We get more shots at the target – but the bullseye remains elusive.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 at 10:31 am and is filed under Media and Mental Health, Relationships and Sex. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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