Textual Intercourse

The first ever text was sent on December 3, 1992. Neil Papworth, a British engineer, used his computer to send the message "Merry Christmas" to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.

By | Mon 28 Jan 2013

My first-ever boyfriend asked me out via text. It went something like, “hey, I like u. do u want 2 go out with me?” Not exactly the height of romance, but I said yes anyway.  Who knows if he ever would’ve had the courage to ask me out in person, but at the tender age of 12, being in a relationship meant texting and chatting online. That’s pretty much it. So in due time, I fell in love with him.

In retrospect, I was probably more in love with how easy it was to be in love with him. Send a message, include a smiley face, maybe a couple of xo’s, a few too many exclamation marks, repeat often, and voilá! Relationship.

While gadgets have certainly made communication faster and more convenient, I feel like it has also made it a bit half-assed, especially for young people who are still in the process of learning basic interpersonal skills. “I love you” is easier texted than said. So is “I want to break up.” Are we cowering behind our cell phones, unable to express how we really feel face to face? Treating each other like emotionless robots? Texting and social media allows us to hide behind a wall of disconnection.

These forms of communication also allow us to use the potential for technological error as an everyday excuse. How easy is it to avoid the blame of standing someone up by simply saying, “Oh, you didn’t get my text?” It also enables us to be more inconsiderate, commitment-phobic and unromantic in person. How many times have you sent your partner a sickeningly sweet, almost embarrassing message of love, only to leave it sitting in the technologic ether, never to be acknowledged face to face or spoken aloud?

So I guess my question is, are gadgets and the modes of communication that they entail making us emotionally inept? Have we forgotten how to express love in person?

The first ever text was sent on December 3, 1992. Neil Papworth, a British engineer, used his computer to send the message “Merry Christmas” to an Orbitel 901 mobile phone.

Hopefully old Neil didn’t expect that cryptic nugget of Christmas cheer to replace time spent in person with his loved ones. But it does make you wonder, before textual communications became a social norm, did anyone have any idea that within two decades, the text would be considered a relatively acceptable replacement for real human contact, or even speaking to each other over the phone?

Indeed, one might say that the primacy of texting (and technology in general) chips away at our ability to interact with other people face to face, something that is the bedrock of social and personal development. This problem is especially troublesome for children and teenagers, who send an average of 193 texts every week, because not only are they promiscuous users of technology, but their interpersonal skills have not yet fully formed.

Here’s an example: a friend of mine once told me that when her younger sister’s friends came over for a sleepover, all they did was sit around interacting with other people on Facebook (while in the same room). What is wrong with this picture? Each teenager becomes an island floating in an online sea, searching for validation from the faceless masses rather than actually strengthening the crucial bonds of real adolescent friendship. In other words, despite being physically together, no one is actually interacting with each other.

Today, we choose FaceTime over actual face time. We share blurry, filtered photos instead of telling stories. Our feelings are expressed in out-of-context status updates, our sense of self-worth based off of the number of ‘likes’ we get (often from people we don’t even know in real life). And this can be severely detrimental to the teenage psyche. In addition to Facebook and texting, there’s a plethora of other chatting and sharing applications that enable this behaviour, and there definitely needs to be more of a balance, especially today as the number of new gadgets and apps continues to grow at lightning speed.

Sidenote, since it is Valentine’s Day and all, let’s talk about the preponderance of relationships that seem held together by the number of times their existence is splashed all over a social media site. Everywhere I go now in Chiang Mai – every coffee shop, every mall, every restaurant – there is at least one couple taking pictures of each other or their food, then sharing them with the rest of the cyber world. It’s as if their meal – and, on that note, their relationship itself – didn’t exist if it wasn’t documented online.

So why do people do this? In my opinion, the root is quite straightforward. About 2,500 years before the first text was ever sent, a Greek philosopher named Hericlitus wisely said that the only constant in life is change. And as technology changes, so do we. We move and grow with the times. We change. With technology, we flock to whatever is new, whatever the trend is. Thailand in particular has a collectivist culture, which makes us that much more prone to chasing trends.

Of course, it would be ignorant to disregard the incredible benefits that technology has bestowed upon our society (after all, I couldn’t even have written this piece without my MacBook). But the question remains: Is technology, and the social and cultural implications that come with it, changing people’s lives for the better or for the worse?

One thing’s for sure: it isn’t going anywhere. So, it is up to us young people to learn how to cope, to reflect on the situation and at least try to utilise technology in an appropriate and healthy manner. Part of that means realising that a text message or a Facebook post or an Instagram shot (no matter how many times you filter it or how many hashtags you add) will never replace real face to face time, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.

There is, however, one upside. You can’t get pregnant from textual intercourse.