Straight to the point: cell phone technology has brought a whole new layer of drama and bullshit to every romantic relationship I’ve been in.
Background information that will help the reader understand where I’m coming from: I am not down for the Droid Era. I do not own a smartphone, which means I do not spend an inordinate amount of my time poking away at my phone. I can only check e-mail or social media sites when I’m at home, on my desktop computer–a computer which is quickly becoming antiquated in its internet capabilities because I refuse to update the operating system (it would kill my audio recording/mixing software, but that’s another story).
No smartphone means no instagram, no snapchat, no apps of any sort. No constant buzzing of a pocket computer calling me to prayer. I have a flip-phone that’s about seven years old. The battery can go for a week without being recharged. I can text and call, but I can’t get group texts, any pictures sent to me have about as much resolution as a postage stamp, and I can’t watch videos or play music. No perpetual soundtrack to my daily life, no tube television as a traveling companion. No videogames, no GPS, no streaming anything.
I do not live as though my phone were my boss or my diety. Unless I am expecting a call or a text, I generally keep it on silent so it is not constantly demanding my attention, and I turn it off by 11pm every night. Sometimes I go the whole day without remembering to turn it back on. I check it occasionally throughout the day, usually when I want to know what time it is. I rarely engage in extended conversations by text; my feeling is, if we have enough to talk about that it takes more than three or four messages, we should be speaking and listening instead of texting.
I first got a cell phone in 2003. I was 23 years old. That means I lived on this planet for 23 years without carrying a phone/computer with me everywhere. I had friends, I had two jobs, I participated in activities, I had a girlfriend, I had a life, and I was able to do all of that without a cell phone; I realize this is fully unimaginable for anyone under the age of 30, but it’s true. The only reason I even got a cell phone was because I moved into my girlfriend’s apartment and for some technical reason I couldn’t transfer my landline number to my new place.
As long as I’ve had a cell phone, I’ve always managed to live in a place with minimal reception. Three different cities, five different domiciles since 2003, and I’ve never had reliable connectivity. Missed calls, dropped calls. Texts and voicemails that arrive days after they’re sent. Sometimes even when my phone’s ringer is on, the phone still doesn’t ring when I get a call or text. A frequent enough occurrence that I’ve taken note of it: I’m around other people and they suddenly have phone connectivity issues they don’t usually have. Maybe it’s my aura.
Digressive side note: a number of times I’ve been teaching a workshop for middle school or high school students, and I’ve used the phrase “cellular phone,” and someone has asked me what that is. They don’t even know that “cell” is an abbreviation of “cellular.”
Now, thanks to these devices, the social environment has taken on some new dimensions of fuckery. Many people live as though these devices were a part of their own bodies. All face-to-face conversations are subject to disruption by gadget at any time. Folks often insist on having a personal soundtrack playing in the background for any mundane occasion. Stories, instead of being told, are illustrated, like children’s books–infinite photos, infinite death of the imagination.
I recognize that I’m the weirdo for not being down with all this, but me being the weirdo doesn’t make this droid culture any less psychotic and disturbing. People who live this way assume that everyone else does too, which is a reasonable assumption given the circumstances. On the everyday level, what this means for me is whenever new people come into my life, they have a learning curve for discovering I’m not a gadget jockey, and certain things about our relationship are going to be different. I’m not going to instantly respond to something you send me. I am not automatically available at any given time of day or night. And if I call you and you don’t answer, I’m probably going to leave a voicemail, archaic as that has become.
And there’s one thing I’m never, ever going to do over text with a romantic partner: argue.
In each of the (romantic)(sexual)(erotic)(love) relationships I’ve been in over the last five years or so, I have made it a point to tell the other party these things up front. Please, if you have any kind of issue with me, if you are upset about any aspect of our relationship for any reason, CALL ME. Don’t text me. I do not do text-message drama, not even a little bit. If you send me some crazy text or series of texts, the first thing I’m going to DO is call you. The first thing I’m going to want to KNOW is why you are disregarding and disrespecting my request, my conditions, my boundaries. (P.S., I reserve the right to act like I never saw the texts in question.)
Seems pretty straight forward to me. I’m as honest and direct about it as I know how to be. And still.
Somebody catches a jolt of feelings, and instead of sitting with it and figuring out how best to address those feelings, they lash out with dead letters. It’s so easy. It’s so normal.
How many times as someone been upset with me because I didn’t respond fast enough to them, or because there was some kind of misunderstanding between us regarding something that was said or not said? How many plans have been cancelled at the Last Possible Minute because it’s so much easier to disappoint someone when you don’t have to hear the disappointment in their voice? How many scathing texts have been impulsively sent and regretted later?
Having been in romantic relationships before and after the Droid Syndrome took hold, I have to say that on the balance, shit is much worse now. Yes, it’s fun to flirt over text. Yes, I like getting cute, sweet, sexy messages from lovers. Yes, it’s a convenient way to let me know x, y, and z. No, it does not make up, cannot make up, for what is lost.
There’s more talking and less communication. Relationships are more fragile. We are more alienated from each other than ever.
“The war is over, and the machines won.”