The Canadian Club

{November 7, 2009}   Here I go again on my own…

I can’t embed the original video, but I feel like the unplugged version captures my mood a little better today, anyway.  Subdued but optimistic, I guess.  Sluggish but determined.  Guarded, but friendly.  How’s my weird chest-wall muscle injury?  Thank you for asking, Russ.  I’m feeling a lot better today.

So there’s been a lot of hullabaloo lately about love and texting, hasn’t there?  What do you think about the New York Magazine article?  Is that actually something?  Because it really just seems like a big, stupid nothing — I don’t see how you can extrapolate anything meaningful about Our Culture Today from those examples.  As for David Brooks’s piece, well, he just sounds weird and off target in his op-ed — but then again, he is reliably wrong about everything, albeit in varying degrees.  Much as Ta-Nehisi Coates is reliably on target.

So at the risk of boring you all (hi Mom, hi Ty) with a return to a subject I touched on a while ago, this has all got me thinking again about electronic text as a primary means of communication between people, and about how that changes the quality of our relationships.  (By text, I’m not just referring to text messages on phones, but also to IM and email and social networking stuff.)  I’ve heard it argued that it’s a distancing or protective device, and also that it facilitates intimacy.  Then there’s that ongoing question about whether it’s making us more, or less, slutty.  As you know, I’ve been in the “courtly love” camp, but then again, it’s not like I know a lot of people who are into hookups, so my view is probably skewed.

As you know, Russ, I love me some IM.  My first experiences with it were way back in Olden Tymes, when I used some primitive version of the technology to stay in touch with my then-boyfriend, who was on a fellowship in another country.  I remember it being sort of nice but also making me feel really sad, because it seemed like such a weird and artificial way to communicate.  I bet, though, that I felt that way just because it was so new and so different from anything that I’d done before.  If I were in the same circumstances now, I think I’d find it a lot less depressing.

I don’t think that it’s just romantic relationships that have been changed by a renewed emphasis on text, though.  I definitely have friends with whom I “click” better through written language.  Perhaps it’s because these media make introvert + introvert friendships easier to nurture…?  There was some dumb thing that I heard on Dan Savage’s podcast recently about how the Pill might be Screwing Up Human Evolution because women on hormonal birth control don’t ovulate, and during the time when women are ovulating they prefer big Neanderthal guys, so maybe women are winding up with wimpier guys than they would otherwise and it’s going to destroy the gene pool or whatever.  That argument seems really questionable to me for a lot of reasons, but I do wonder whether these text-based technologies are facilitating connections between people who might otherwise be too shy or nerdy to get things going on their own.  So do you think that if I suggest that Facebook is altering the course of human evolution, I can get my dumb theory on the news, too?


Ty Palmer says:

Trick or Tweet, or, Here’s Ty ‘dialing in’ on the above post.

Do you remember the recurring sketch in which Conan O’Brien and sidekick Andy Richter give deadpan predictions for the future, while band member Richie Rosenberg chants “in the year 2000″ in a falsetto? (The whole shtick gave me “D.F.” {a term Pomi and I coined back in the 80’s that stood for the “Dork Feeling.” — It’s when you feel awkwardly embarrassed, especially for someone else. [e.g., our now rusty example was when you watch the boys from NKOTB do their crotch dance, or, say, Menudo belting out a ballad. For a while, our slogan-saying was included in the annals of The Urban Dictionary]}). But I digress. Why didn’t Conan et al., see the current state of text relations in their visions???? After all, they foretold the apocalyptic rule of the latte-hating Texan. They were spot on, in their O.J. trial-outcome premonitions…in 1995!! Another vision had Andy saying “A printing error will change the title of O.J. Simpson’s memoirs from ‘My Life on Trial’ to ‘Why I Love Being a Murderer.’…in the year 2000!!

Switching gears, I have to admit that I’m still very uneasy using text to communicate with a (especially) romantic partner*. Never before have I related that of the quotidian; woos, or lover’s weltschmerz using a hand held (Jenny is at that liminal age between Generation X and Y; the latter of which seems way more comfortable than I am with proxy communication). Thoughts on Gen Y could totally be another topic of discussion (I have a recurring nightmare where everyone but me looks like an American Apparel model, and where some nubile thing shows me how to use a ‘portable toaster’ because I am clearly too dumb and unhip.

So then, yes, I’ve fallen into abbreviating words when texting, IMing, so forth. My text pad has become a literary chop house where words are pared and sent out. The 411 is that I feel cheap. The soul-crushing idea of parlaying my thoughts via a vulgar patois of lolcat neologisms makes me wonder about my dignity, the state of communication and whether or not people will indeed grow larger or smaller thumbs in order to facilitate easier Blackberry Tweets (If true, will future generations [In the Year 3000!] have to “retrofit” users’ digits with prosthetic (dis)enhancers when using antiquated texting devices?). Seems like the film Idiocracy would’ve “touched” on this. Seems like that last sentence was nerdy enough to give myself D.F.

PS: I did find an apros pos Conan prediction online: “YouTube, Twitter and Facebook will merge to form one super time-wasting Web site called YouTwitFace.”

PPS: I still need to read the NYT article you refer to.

*the word ‘partner’ feels strange in this context, since Starbucks also uses that word to describe their store associates and Jenny is my gf/partner/coffee dealer.

Dave says:

Ah, but that Conan sketch elicited the good kind of D.F., right? It’s funny, I do remember having an almost physical reaction the first couple of times I saw it.

I have to confess, you lost me with the quotidian/woos/weltschmerz sentence. Are you saying that that the hand-held device is too prosaic for you to associate it with love? You mention proxy communication; does that mean that you think the technology has a distancing effect? Because I tend to find the opposite. I’ve noticed that I tend to be a lot more direct in, say, IM chats than I am face-to-face. Lowered inhibitions, I guess.

It’s interesting that you find the short-format text thing to be soul-crushing. I’m surprised that I don’t, but then again, I’m not using it for romantic communications. I don’t think I’d have a problem with it in that context now, either, though. Then again, I’m a pathetic sucker for rapid-fire banter, to which IM and phone text seem especially well suited.

As for vulgar patois, well, French is really terrible, degraded Latin, so who knows? Maybe in the year 3000 your descendants will be reading the Proust of emoticons. 😉

Anna says:

Back in the days when rented videocassettes still roamed the land, I spent 8 months in a long-distance relationship without benefit of email or cell phone. The daily hand-written letters were romantic, but the heart attack that accompanied every month’s long-distance bill (and resulting reduction in phone calls) was not. Suffice it to say that the day that my job was wired for ye interweb was the last day the boyfriend, who already had email, set pen to paper.

I’m also a big fan of electronic communication because I have a friend with Asperger’s, and while we have built a very close friendship via web over the decades, I pretty much want to beat her with a plate every time we hang out in person. Some people do better with a filter.

Is Ta-Nehisi Coates really that great? I agree that he’s smart, insightful and liberal, but my main experience of him was when he went on every NPR show ever to promote his memoir about growing up, and he seemed pretty committed to a Let’s Me Tell You about Being a Man worldview, and I hate that. Did I misunderstand him? Not only am I uninterested in contemplations of manhood, but it’s not like the last few thousand years of culture (or, say, Martin Scorcese movies) have been lacking in masculine subject matter and perspective.

I think that the musicians from ONCE should be forced to listen to Whitesnake until they stop being so earnest.

Dave says:

Anna, I heard all TNC’s promo interviews and yes, they did start sounding a little bit smug. But I love his blog, which is reliably nerdy and insightful, with lots of great commenters.

Your story about your Asperger’s friend seems to support my theory about the coming nerd super-race being ushered in by electronic communications. Combined with the evolutionary horror of the pill, this new ability of the socially awkward to find each other and reproduce can only mean doom for our species.

I haven’t seen ONCE, but I do think that pretty much every musician should be forced to listen to Whitesnake.

Dave says:

*Doom for the V-shaped-torso and 0.7-waist-hip-ratio members of our species, I mean. The rest of us will have it made.

Anna says:

Because really, unless global warming sends us back to the 19th century, how much use do we have for large numbers of hulking men? We’ll just have to establish a preserve for the care and breeding of NYC-style firemen (Philly firemen are a horror) for public safety reasons.

In HS one year, we had to watch Whitesnake’s “Here I Go…” and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” videos and analyze them for sexist content. I think that it was part of health week, quite possibly the same year that we had to do a ropes course, learn CPR and (girls only) watch a full-monty video of unmedicated childbirth.

Dave says:

It might have been more challenging to analyze those videos for non-sexist content. And OMG, full-monty unmedicated childbirth? I’ve DONE that and I’m not sure I could get through a video.

Anna says:

Oh yes, the vidoe was awful. Though probably more accurate than the weird, hippie-dippie, “Marissa sips orange juice while her husband chants” version of unmedicated childbirth that our birthing class screened. Hmmm, maybe that HS video is why I once screamed at a midwife who offered me a downtown mirror at delivery time.

Now that I think of it, when I had my 1st child at age 33, I was among the first of my video-viewing friends to have a baby; apparently it was extremely effective in promoting contraception. I’ll try to find a copy, so that we can show it to our sons’ girlfriends before first dates.

Dave's Mom says:

The reason Grandpa H. married Grandma, who was no prize as far as I’m concerned, is that there were only four girls in Odebolt, IA–three of them were taken and the nearest town was a day’s ride in a buggy. If Grandpa could have gotten his hands on a car, you can bet he would have at least gone to Sioux City. In the “Happy Days” era (mine), people made babies in the back seat, because all that “guidance from the community” kept you from having other kinds of fun–plus it was hard to get your hands on birth control. Technology is great, it gives you lots of options about who you hang out with or hook up with.

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