As a teenager in high school, one of my greatest fears was my mom tracking me—not necessarily because I was doing anything bad or going anywhere I wasn’t supposed to, but solely because that fit into the stereotype of the overprotective mom. No one wanted a “Big Brother,” whomever it may be, tracking their every move and location.
Rumor had it James’s mom put a tracker in his phone—his razor cell phone, and that was weird. James’s mom was weird.
Fast forward 10 years, and I check “Find My Friends” like it’s social media. This app allows users to follow “friends”—as in be able to see their friends’ exact locations at all times. I love it because I never really have to text my friends to ask what library they are studying in that night or if they are still in class or not. I just check the app.
For example, right now, I can see Monica is in discussion in Nau Hall, and Jackie is studying in Clem tonight. Creepy, right? But it’s also really comforting. On a Friday night, I can see where my friends are and if they got home safe—and vice versa.
In fact, I’ve gotten so used to this it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without this constant connection. Even without Find My Friends, I can just text someone “wya,” meaning “where you at?”—I know, terrible language but it’s just what kids say nowadays. “Wya” elicits an instant response and basically says, “Let’s meet up.”
I picked up my friend Ruthie the other day from class to get dinner. We were texting about when exactly she got out of class and where she would be—the easiest place I could pick her up, as I navigated my way through mob of students also getting out of class. Stopped at the stoplight, I texted her, “Passing the French house,” and read her response, “Standing on the right side of circle in between Wilson and the Comm school.”
She jumped in the car, and on our way to dinner, we caught up on the last 24 hours of not seeing each other. The conversation progressed into an update on our respective relationships and a potential problem of a lack in constant communication. Someone hadn’t texted her back after four hours, and it was a point of contention—understandably.
In a world where we carry around small communication device, not texting back within an hour is seen as unacceptable. Reasonable excuses include “I was asleep” or “at work” or “in an meeting.” The classic excuse, “sorry I was at dinner” has become almost unjustified, and does that mean texting at the dinner table okay now?
Then, Ruthie got deep. “I wonder what being in a relationship would be like if we didn’t have cellphone. How did people meet up?”
I immediately pictured a girl dressed in a polka dotted dress—or maybe a poodle skirt—waiting by a phone, with a dial and spiral cord, for a boy to call.
“I guess they waited by the house phone,” I said. “Lots of people must have been stood up. Problematic.”
How did any relationship survive? I called my grandma.
Beside recollections of her college experience consisting of “curfews” and “study hours,” she said everything was much more formal and prearranged, which makes sense. Overall, I would argue society has become more relaxed as a whole in comparison the traditional customs of the 50s and 60s.
With the absence of cellphones, each family had just one house phone, so you were never able to “sit and visit with a boyfriend.” This meant he usually didn’t call much.
“You would talked at school, and then, that would be it,” Grammie said.
I asked if this actually meant lots of people were stood up on dates. She said no, that it didn’t happen very often. Every plan you made was a firm commitment. Nowadays, we are more flexible—smart insights, Grammie!
So is constant contact a good thing? Features such as “Find My Friends” are often depicted as dangerous or impeding on our freedoms, but that may only be the case in relationships with a clearly dominant figure. Take for example the government having access to your texts without a warrant—the information Edward Snowden revealed scared us. But I do not see a problem with my friends having my location. I like that they do. I willingly share it with them and they with me.
As for constant conversation the lines blur a bit more. In a case with a difference in power, we hate it when our employer expect us to respond to emails, texts or Slack off the clock—in most cases. In France, this is illegal.
It’s called the worker’s “right to disconnect.” Companies with more than 50 employees are required to establish hours in which employees should not send or receive emails. Just this past March, a similar bill was proposed in the none other than the city that “never sleeps,” New York City. The bill cites studies providing this “telepressue,” or the pressure of being constantly connected, leads to poor sleeping pattern, burnout, or overall constant stress.
Slack is the newest, most popular platform for communication in the workplace, and we’ve adopted it at my school’s student newspaper The Cavalier Daily. Slack encourages response rates for the speed of text messages while keeping the professionalism of an email. As their website says, it “simplifies communication” and promotes more efficient work; yet, at the same time, Slack advertises that its platform “reduces stress.” Wouldn’t this increase stress—being constantly connected and available? It has definitely done so at The Cav. Daily.
However, even within an equal power dynamic relationship, such as friendships and romantic relationships, quick responses are still expected, and although a job isn’t on the line, we still struggle to find the line between creepily fast and appropriate.
As Ruthie put it, “What would you talk about when you see each other in person if you talked over text all day?”
She has a point. I would definitely run out of stories to tell.
Electronic communication devices have brought us closer than ever and has definitely been a factor in speeding up the pace of society. Generally, our patience seems to be low, as we expect much more much faster. We value efficiency and use it to progress as a society even quicker.