My best friend recently emailed me the link to a Harper’s Bazaar article by Ashton Kutcher called “Has Texting Killed Romance?” Next question: “In an Internet era, are we losing our ability to really communicate?” Both queries seemed strange coming from a Hollywood star who epitomizes digital post-millennial communication more than any male celebrity this side of Justin Bieber, Kanye West and John Mayer, and who recently was name-dropped by a 90210 character who gleefully exclaimed that he was following her on Twitter.
Ah, the irony! Speaking of which, in a non-Internet era, I wouldn’t have been able to read Kutcher’s essay, which was actually quite good, in the first place. But since we’re dealing with the digital age here, here’s one final twist: As we supposedly are losing our ability to really communicate, some of us are doing it more efficiently and with more people than ever before. It depends on how deep you care to dig. Modern communication need not be an endless stream of random, badly punctuated mini-thoughts. Acquaintances I rarely see or speak to learn all of my business every time they read my blog or my Facebook wall, and sometimes my postings lead to an online exchange of ideas that we might not have otherwise. Thanks to iPhones, iPads and everything in between, we now can spend days in solitude, never uttering a word, yet interacting non-stop.
The downside: If it’s possible to pay your bills, watch movies, listen to music, or have an entire romance by pressing a keypad, why bother leaving the house at all? Feeling horny? Get laid with Grindr, or have text sex. Pretty much the only things we can’t do with online technology are exercise and go to the bathroom, but I’m sure someone is working on it.
Although a small part of me misses the way things were before the Internet took over our lives, I wouldn’t change a thing. There are plenty of people who grew up pre-Internet, pre-texting, even pre-answering machine, who are no better at holding a conversation than 20-year-olds who have spent most of their lives glued to the computer. Internet addiction and the gift of gab aren’t mutually exclusive. As both an online junkie and a pretty decent conversationalist, I can say that now that there is so much information at my fingertips, when I choose to go face-to-face with someone, there’s so much more for me to talk about.
As for romance, texting hasn’t so much killed it as drastically altered and expanded the playing field. Yes, there’s a kind of rush when you meet someone for the first time, write down your phone number on a cocktail napkin, hand it over, and get a phone call from that person the next day. But if memory serves, it also can be an anxiety-inducing nightmare, especially if you’re making the initial contact. Isn’t rejection easier to handle when it’s in the form of an unanswered text? Texting protects us from the drama of calling someone, praying that the answering machine picks up, agonizing over every stupid word we leave on it, then spending the next several hours wondering if we’re going to get a return call.
That’s only one of the reasons why I hate talking on the phone. I don’t think I’ve spent a total of more than 10 minutes doing it with anyone I’ve dated in the last five years. I give great face-to-face, but on the phone, I’m a total dud. Usually it rings at the most inopportune times, and I come across as sleepy, bitchy, or drunk when I answer. (Which reminds me, drunk texting is so much safer than drunk dialing because at least you might pass out before pressing send.) And don’t get me started on phone calls to customer service. Why listen to a million prompts and be passed from computerized voice to computerized voice before finally getting a human being on the line, only to have the call mysteriously cut off, when filling out a simple online form would do?
Phones should be seen and (mostly) not heard, there for special emergencies or, like texting, short conversations to set up live meetings. The problem with many young people is that they use texting and the Internet in lieu of face time. But just because the phone rings, doesn’t mean that the person on the other end will be clever or charming. Small talk wasn’t invented yesterday. It’s been around as long as language. Twitter may limit you to expressing your thoughts in 140 characters or less — and yes, economy of words has its place in oral communication, too — but that doesn’t mean we all have to be a slaves to soundbites.
So if we meet cute, and you like what you see, don’t call, just text. Let me know when and where we can take it to the next level. Be sure to show up on time, have something to say, and don’t forget to turn off all electronic devices.