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Is Technology Bad for Relationships?

What happened to handwriting? What happened to privacy on a date? What happened to friends-of-friends? What happened to it not being so easy to pretend to be something we’re not?
 
 
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Yesterday, at my corner bodega, the cashier was wearing a T-shirt that said, “You looked hotter on MySpace.” As far as I know, she doesn’t speak English. Last night, out on a date with one guy, I received a text from another and then answered it in the bathroom. (In fact, I have often taken to silencing my phone when I’m on dates because, when it rings, it always seems to provoke awkward questions. But, oops, not this time.) And a month ago, a bed-ridden friend of mine found out she’d spent a year in an online relationship with a person who literally did not exist.

I am not a Luddite. In fact, one of my favorite ways to simultaneously put guys in their place and turn them on is to casually respond to their blathering about home theater by mentioning I myself have a brand-new “1080p.” Stops ‘em dead in their tracks. But aside from that little dating trick (go ahead, steal it), I have to say, I’m not sure electronics have helped relationships.

We have so many great ways now to say what we mean, say how we’re feeling: We can write a text-message haiku or express regrets in a 5,000-word email or rekindle a flame by dropping in on an ex’s MySpace. But instead, we’re using our electronic options to lie more than anything. Whether it’s spending an hour crafting that five-line “totally casual” email, putting something “funny” for your birth date on MySpace, or Photoshopping your ex out of that photo (because your hair looks so good in it, natch) before posting it on Match.com, it’s all just so easy. How on earth was my date ever going to know I was standing on that toilet seat, waving my phone around like a madwoman trying to quickly find a better signal?

Not to mention all the new rules. As if we didn’t have enough rules for the poets to have been writing about them for centuries, we now have a whole new set for electronic communication. Take 24 hours to answer an email if you get one after a first date. Only sluts make bootycalls, but a well-crafted bootytext makes subtle art of the whole business (“Hey, you out? J ”). Never, ever, EVER put your real email on a dating site or MySpace or Friendster and especially not Facebook. (Yeah -- just because he, too, went to Princeton, he’s not a psycho. Brilliant theory.)

What happened to handwriting? What happened to privacy on a date? What happened to friends-of-friends? What happened to it not being so easy to pretend to be something we’re not?

Yes, it’s nice to hide behind the wall of email and texts and profiles -- yes, we can say things both flirtatious and venomous over those channels we’d never have the courage to utter in person or on paper. But we’ve always found ways to flirt, haven’t we? And I’m sure my mother enjoyed throwing those wine glasses much more than I enjoy hitting “send.” But we all know there is only one secret to good relationships: Being honest. If you fall in love with each other because of who you really are, not because of who you pretend to be, you may not succeed, but at least you have a chance. Any other way -- the way text and emails and profiles make so easy for us, the way they make it so seductive to give in to our fears that we’re not good enough for anyone, let alone that special someone we like -- any other way, and you don’t have a hope.

About 10 years ago, I remember reading about a device they sold in Japan that could attach to a payphone (yes, kids, see, you would put change in, and it would allow you to call people on it by dialing actual numbers) and generate background noises from train stations, a busy street, the office -- wherever Cheating-san was pretending to be. When I started working on this article, I tried looking that device up the same way we all Google a new flame (Why? To see if they’re lying about anything … ). But what’s funny is they don’t seem to manufacture it anymore, a fact which, initially, you’d imagine I’d be pleased about -- one less piece of technology that enables assholes, right? But when I started to think about it, it made me sad. Because I can’t help thinking they don’t make it anymore for the same reason they stopped making the typewriter and the spinning jenny.

They stopped making it because I don’t need to buy one; all I need to do is go powder my nose.

Samantha Edwards is a New York-based writer.

 
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