Monday, March 3, 2008

Beware the joy of text

This is the text (!) of my That's Men column in The Irish Times on 26th February 2008:

“God, yes I….” began a text message I got on my way through JFK Airport after Christmas.
The gist of the message was that I was a fantastic lover and that the sender was, er, thinking about me and missing me already.

Clearly the text was not meant for me (my wife agrees). Sneakily, I looked up the number on my computer and nobody came up. Darn.

Naughty text messages sit in phones like unexploded grenades. The explosion comes when a nosey partner spots an unattended phone, reads the messages in the inbox and gets a shock. The result, needless to say, is rarely pleasant for anyone involved.

The text message is a sort of gremlin in the world of relationships. Gremlins are mischief makers which delight in tormenting the afflicted. So it is with the illicit text.

Now, there is nothing wrong with sending loving or even saucy texts to your loved one. It’s when the relationship ends that texting takes on a different complexion.

If one of the partners didn’t want the relationship to end, the texts are likely to keep on coming in a bid to reverse the break-up. If the two parted by mutual consent, the texts may still keep flowing, much to the discomfiture of new parties who, sooner or later, will take a peek into the inbox.

In other words, texting has meant the end of the clean break – splitting up is even harder to do.

There’s another side to texting and it’s linked with control. The day the mobile phone was invented was a red letter day for control freaks everywhere. The mobile provided them with the almost perfect tool for tracking another person’s movements. The control freak will ruin a partner’s evening out with friends by sending text after text demanding to know “where are you now?” “who are you with?” “what are you doing?” “when are you coming home?” and so on. Failure to respond to these texts can lead to a lot of unpleasantness later on.

And when the person who is at the receiving end of this nonsense decides to call a halt to the relationship, the texts and voicemails multiply like rabbits, necessitating an inconvenient change of numbers not once but perhaps a few times. This is because control freaks can be good at finding out your new number, especially if your friends are gobshites who can be plámásed by said control freak.

Needless to say, texting also offers a cowardly means of breaking up with someone. This can add to the pain of the person who has been dumped especially if that person’s texts elicit no response. And when the person who was dumped eventually forms a new relationship, a resumption of texts from the one who did the dumping – and who has now changed his or her mind – can create havoc.

If you’re not used to texting, this may all seem rather laborious. How can people have the patience to do all these things by text? Well, have you ever watched a dedicated texter – a teenager, say – texting? The really good ones do not even need to look at the letters on the keypad. They are like touch typists – their fingers know where to go. A secondary school teacher once lamented to me that she suspects the school’s anti-texting policy is frustrated by girls who are able to text without taking their phones out of their pockets. Needless to say, any attempt by the teacher to remove said phones from pockets could result in a costly trip to the High Court.

There’s something very human about all this carry-on. People stop and coort in cars which were designed to get them from place to place quickly. People use computers for playing games when, really, they could be using them to work out complex mathematical theorems. And people send dirty messages to each other on mobile phones when they could be exchanging uplifting lines of poetry.

We could be perfect. We could be uplifted. But, once again, humanity gets in the way.

And all I can say to that is, “God, yes I….”

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