Recently, three of my close female friends have been broken up with by a text message. My girlfriends were furious. The guys responsible were instantly branded as “rude” and “total douche-bags”.
I’m in a relationship right now and haven’t been in the dating scene for a few years. I’m wondering, is this normal? Is this where we are headed? Is technology causing us to lose our manners?
(I know I shouldn’t really talk. I broke up with someone using a post-it, but now that almost seems….retro)
Speaking of retro, do you remember those days long ago, when you’d overhear conversations that sounded like this:
“I can’t believe he broke up with you on the PHONE. What a jerk. He didn’t even have the guts to tell you in person”.
I remember in high school breaking up over the phone was considered a total coward’s move. However, this was during an era when the Internet and cell phones were just starting to become popular, before our culture became saturated with smart phones, texting, bbm’s, and social media. Now, I feel like if you get a phone-call you’re lucky.
It all started in university when an ex-boyfriend of mine broke up with me via an email. It hurt so much to see four months worth of dates, kisses, and nakedness distilled into 4 grammatically questionable sentences. I was livid. My first thought when I read his message was, “He didn’t even have the guts to tell me on the phone?!”.
A year later I had another relationship end over MSN messenger. My first thought was “He couldn’t even EMAIL me?!”. I was upset but I wasn’t exactly surprised. I figured getting broken up with in this way was the downside of dating nerds (the upside being that you always have someone to fix your computer).
Still, this experience left me wondering, “What will be next?”
One of my favorite authors, Douglas Coupland attempts to answer this question in his latest book “Generation A”. The book features a short story entitled “Bartholomew is Right There at the Dawn of Language”. The story takes place in future reality where the protagonist Bartholomew, works as a copy editor for a business magazine. Bart comes from a long line of “language purists” and he abhors the many abbreviations that are now part of our daily life (JPEGS, LOL, BBM, RT, WTF, BFF). The beginning of the end for Bartholomew is when he loses the ability to decipher the text messages that are sent to him. In this future reality, people have begun to send text messages to each other that are composed of only acronyms, abbreviations and numbers. For example “xxx%ghdRTlol” would translate to “Want to go out tonight?”. When the people around him start to talk exactly like they text, he realizes he is trapped in a world where he can no longer understand anyone. Unable to communicate, he becomes a hermit. One day he wakes up to find that The Rapture has happened. Everyone who adopted this new form of communication has left the earth, and the people like Bart, who still preferred to speak in “proper English” are left behind to fend for themselves.
Is this merely one author’s apocalyptic vision or a glimpse into our future? Is it really that far off from reality?
Technology is no doubt changing the way we interact; manage our personal relationships and date. I can’t help but wonder if one day I’ll wake up to a Tweet (or whatever the future equivalent is) that will say:
And, I’ll understand “Oh no, he wants to see other people”.
The advent of the “Text Message Break-up” isn’t a sign that people are bigger jerks than they used to be. It’s merely a symptom of the current state of our society. We live in a culture of mass personalization where we are continually bombarded by social media and encouraged to connect with people instantaneously. Communication has become linked to instant gratification. The downside of this is that relationships have become in some ways depersonalized. You can now tell someone something that ordinarily would have been difficult or awkward, without having to look at person in the eye, or see their tears, or hear the disappointment in their voice. The result of this is that your actions lose a sense of consequence.
I was thinking about all of this while waiting for the subway the other day. I looked up and saw a poster for Koodoo Mobile advertising their new text messaging plan. The copy said “Flirting without the awkward silence”. I couldn’t help but wonder; maybe we need that awkward silence. It reminds us that behind the screens of our iPhones and Blackberries, we are all people with feelings. Maybe its this silence that will save us from ourselves and not the other way around.
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