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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Love in the time of caller ID: Relationships with technology and the technology of relationships

Published: November 13, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

diverse city 11-13-09_Page_3_Image_0002In a strange amalgam of technology, I recently found myself in the awkward situation of Facebook chatting with my (for lack of a better word) ex about our (for lack of a better word) former relationship through the analogy of my upgraded cell phone. After discussing the fact that after three years with my Motorola Razr it was time to move on—not to mention being called a vixen for falling in love with my new phone shortly after ditching the old one—I finally ended by explaining that the Razr had nothing left to give. I’m a woman, I told him. I have needs.

I felt like I was having the talk I never really had about entering a relationship shortly after my non-breakup with my non-boyfriend. Ours was a strange relationship the way many are in a culture of dating where “going steady” is a thing of the past and “it’s complicated” must suffice. Now that whatever it was is long over, perhaps the only way to talk about it is an equally complicated metaphor of a tech upgrade. Our virtual chat got me thinking about relationships with technology as well as the technology of relationships.

Just before starting college, I went in to upgrade my LG something-or-other for something new, and saw the Razr displayed in the front of the store. It was love at first sight. After a few seconds of fondling his sleek exterior and getting acquainted with his friendly interface, I was sold. And so began our three-year love affair. The beginning stages were perfect. He was new, fun, and everything I wanted in a cell phone. But by the end of the third year, the honeymoon was over. With a battery life of about 10 minutes, he let me down when I needed him most. Plus, with no Qwerty keyboard and devastatingly slow texting, he simply didn’t live up to new technology. After a while, everyone else had seemed to move on and there I was still clinging to a love whose fire went out long ago.

Eventually it was so bad I was carrying around my phone charger in my purse in case he was in need of emergency resuscitation. The phone had been on its deathbed for longer than I was willing to admit, and it became too much—I knew I had to move on. Yet every trip to the Verizon store, I wandered around checking out whatever was new, but nothing seemed right. Too bulky, too flimsy, too complicated, too simplistic. I felt like the Goldilocks of cell phones, unwilling to settle until it was just right.

I’ll admit I have a tendency to develop an unusual attachment to inanimate objects. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I personify them, universally as males. I’m sure there’s some Freudian subconscious connection to this habit, but psychoanalysis aside, does this cell phone separation anxiety really sound so strange? I feel like I’m not alone in my neurosis. Many of us, for example, have phones with names. It’s not “my cell” but my Blackberry or my iPhone. We dress them up with covers, screen wallpapers. We recognize them by their unique ringtones. We charge them every night, literally feeding them to survive. My current boyfriend treats his iPhone like his baby, giving her love and attention, constantly talking about her, checking up on her and protecting her like his first-born child.

So are we just consumerist sheep listening to capitalist mantras that tell us to imbue feelings into products and confuse purchasing power with love? Is there something lacking in our lives that is leading us to seek what we don’t have in the products we do have? It’s a conundrum that probably has Karl Marx rolling over in his grave. But if there’s anything positive that can come from our strange, almost human relationship with consumer products, perhaps it is realizing that sometimes a girl needs to shop around and follow her gut when it says, “This isn’t for me.”

Of course, hanging on to old baggage while searching for the right one doesn’t seem to be the answer. And that’s where the analogy gets complicated.

Maybe we see relationships like phone contracts; after one expires we sometimes feel we need a new one immediately. And while we are relentlessly picky about phones—whether we want a two-year commitment or Pay-As-You-Go, touch-screen, full-keyboard, flip, slide, or Internet accessible— it seems that in relationships, we often settle.

Commitment issues? No sense of humor? Arrogant, ignorant, emotionally unavailable? We can work around it. But tell us we can’t send a picture text and we move on.

Maybe we’d be better off if we waited for the right one, even if it’s not on the shelves yet, in hopes that it will come along. I finally did. He’s a combination of features I didn’t think I’d be able to find in one person: caring, gorgeous, funny, smart—and always charged.

Puns aside, I’m finally in a loving relationship; no “it’s complicated” here. Now if I could only get insurance…