There are many kinds of indignation. There is the violent indignation of a Mets’ fan whose player just struck out and the petulant indignation of a child who isn’t allowed to play with a toy that doesn’t belong to him. There is the passing indignation of being cut off in traffic and the enduring indignation of being passed over for promotion. For this first column, in this first issue, I’m addressing something that is new to me: indignation over the blatant yet socially acceptable abuse of a simple technology.
I am not technophobic. A loyal Apple user since the days of the II e, I love my old Powerbook (though it’s already nearly as obsolete as that II e) and my new video iPod (nearly 15 of its 80 gigs are in use). I keep a drawer in my apartment dedicated to the detritus of today’s essentials ““ digital camera chargers, connector cables, adapters, assorted batteries, and tiny storage devices for gadgets I no longer own. But when it comes to cell phones, I was a willfully late adopter. I am not a phone person, and something about carrying around a device that allows anyone to call you anytime, anywhere, just doesn’t sit right with me. The number of times I have waited in the supermarket checkout line while the girl in front of me chatters on her cell phone might have something to do with it.
Anyway, three years ago, after constant badgering from friends who could never get in touch with me, I finally got a cell phone. It opened up a whole new world; a world in which I had no idea how to function. I would forget to charge it, provoking a persistent plaintive beeping, so I would turn it off and forget to turn it on again. People wondered why I didn’t get voice messages, and they got irritated because the phone was always off. Friends would send text messages. Some of them had pictures attached. I didn’t know how to look at them. All I knew is that they cost extra. I asked my friends not to text me.
Now, with the prevalence of Blackberrys and iPhones, texts, pictures, videos, and emails are all whizzing through the air at thousands of kilobytes per second every second of every day. The current generation of 18-24 year olds has never known communication to be any different. This is not necessarily a bad thing. While I appreciate the inherent usefulness of this all, these new, more text-based, and less personal, methods of communication, have certainly changed the way we relate to one another. Yes, when traveling, for business or when plans change last minute, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to convey information to anyone in the world at the touch of a button. But is a text really appropriate in every situation?
For example, I was out with a friend one night, and while trying to get the bartender’s attention, we started chatting with two guys. Drinks were had, and numbers were exchanged. Now, it is not unusual for a guy, on being told my number, to dial it on the spot. This serves multiple purposes ““ it gets the number into his phone’s memory, it confirms the legitimacy of the number, and it automatically gets his number into my phone. Fine. In this case, the guy, immediately upon getting my number, sent me a text. It read: “Hi paloma its ur bf adam” (sic). Half an hour later he sent another: “I had fun w u. Def hang again soon.” I received that message the following morning because I do not habitually check my phone. In fact, I rarely look at it unless it is actively ringing (and sometimes, not even then). I eventually wrote back: “Hope youre not too hungover. I had fun w you too.” He responded immediately: “Actually feel great.
At this point, I was enjoying the novelty of an active text exchange with a cute guy, though I had no clue how to go about it. It takes me a good five to ten minutes to compose any kind of text message, and each time is just as frustrating and fraught with peril as the last. In the time I have owned a cell phone, my texting skills have improved only in that I now know how to do it, more or less. At any rate, I was at work, so the exchange was quickly put away, and I went on about my life.
That Saturday evening, I received this message from Adam: “Going out tonite?” OK, so, how does one typically respond to this sort of thing? The question is straightforward, but it was not an invitation or any kind of request for my company. That combination of words in this particular situation could best be interpreted as: “If you are going out tonight, maybe we can meet up.” Or a more straightforward translation: “Will you get drunk and have sex with me tonight?” My response: “Busy tonight ““ maybe later this week?
I admit that this is still a new medium for me, and I need to pick up on the rules. When did it become acceptable for guys to communicate this way? I use the word “communicate” here because I can’t honestly say he asked me out. He didn’t. What happened is that he sent me a text that implied an interest in a social interaction of some sort. What the hell is that? By the way, his response to my suggestion that we meet up later in the week was this: “Mos def
Which brings us to a few days later, when I looked at my phone and realized I had another text: “My friend wants to hang w ur friend again so we shld do group cocktails a nite this wk?” This at least is a specific suggestion. But he still hadn’t actually called me. Is this how things work now? Has all our modern technology and instant communication brought us to this? It’s like passing notes in junior high. No wonder kids love it so much. And no wonder it’s caught on with all those twenty- and thirty-somethings out there enjoying their extended adolescence. For the record, this particular guy is in his thirties and, apparently, owns his own business.
Call me old fashioned, but when a guy wants to go out with me, I’d like him to actually ask me out. What’s wrong with dialing a number and making a phone call? If you’re texting me, you already have a phone in your hand with the number plugged in for you. It takes more time to type out a message than it does to hit the little green button to put a call through.
I am not the only one to suffer the abuses of texting in the dating realm. An informal survey of my single friends reveals near universal annoyance with the medium. The typed word, especially when abbreviated, is ambiguous in the best of times. How many emails have been misinterpreted because nuance doesn’t read? And yet, it has become the default form of communication. In a way, it’s easy to see why. Text is ambiguous. There is very little danger in sending a few words into the ether. It’s like a crumb dropped into a pond to see if anything bites. If nothing does, it just dissolves. No risk involved. If something does bite, you can still hover and decide whether or not you’re interested. It’s the very definition of passive aggressive. It’s happening more and more often in every age group among both men and women, and it’s really not okay.
If I receive a text that says, “Hey its Blank ““ now u have my number.” Yes, that’s true, but does that mean I’m supposed to respond? I don’t know how to carry on a conversation with acronyms because I’m no longer eight years old. Don’t make me try to flirt by typing out letters on a numbered keypad. It will never sound good. If you want to talk to me, press the little green button and wait for the ringing sound to stop. It’s really not that hard. If you don’t want to talk, why are you wasting your time with all the typing?