This is a genre of essay that I’m getting increasingly impatient with—call it “Love me, I’m a Luddite”. Sarah Hepola’s essay about why she’s frustrated with text messaging, and especially the self-congratulatory ending where she (gasp!) writes a letter on a legal pad (whatever happened to stationary?) is cute and well-written but pointless. Let’s face it; the main reason people are threatened by text messaging is because it’s new and different and reminds you of how old you are and therefore how far you are along on your march towards the grave. Because taken on its own, text messaging is a brilliant innovation that’s improving the quality of life for those who’ve embraced it.
Text messaging has addressed all the complaints that people had about the cell phone. Remember when Luddites complained non-stop about cell phones? They were intrusive and noisy, remember? It was a bad thing to be on call all the time, to have to deal immediately with anyone who interrupted your silence with the little jingle of “Play That Funky Music” or whatever you chose for your ring tone. Texting has addressed every complaint. It’s quiet. The recipient is expected to handle the messages at their leisure. You don’t have to annoy people sharing your space on public transportation. You don’t have to step outside of the noisy bar you’re in to be able to understand the message. You can dispense with the time-consuming small talk. Objectively, the text message has been a great breakthrough.
Naturally, the urge towards Luddite complaining has to kick in. Hepola admits sheepishly that she’s being silly in complaining about the text message, noting that Andy Rooney might make a similar complaint. To bolster her attack, she leans on sexual paranoia, citing the text message as discomforting because it makes it so much easier to arrange a late night booty call. It does because it evades the biggest obstacle to making the booty call, which is pushiness or the potential to offend someone by waking them up in the middle of the night with a loud phone call. Sending the “I’m awake, wanna fuck?” message to someone by text message is coming on with pushing too hard. And if they’re asleep, the odds that you’re going to wake them up is pretty close to nothing. If they have roommates, you can arrange the booty call without alerting the neighborhood. All of this emboldens booty callers, meaning that Teh Secks happens that much more often.
Once you’re getting into the territory of indulging sexual paranoias to bolster your Luddite arguments, my skepticism rises. Why do new technologies automatically make people start thinking up fears about the degradation of sexual morality? It’s not just Hepola’s text messaging=booty calls=vague concerns about sexual morality. Every time a new technology emerges, you can guess that a wave of sexual anxieties will follow. Right now, the concerns are that digital pictures, social networking software, web cameras, and blogging are turning Kids These Days into degenerates. And when new technologies emerge, the same concerns will follow. It’s predictable, but I’ll be damned if I understand why.
The commenters at Salon took the bait, of course, and firmly embraced the idea that the amount of activity in a woman’s pants is inversely proportionate to the amount of goodness in her soul. Like this one:
The problem is the all-but-anonymous 2 am hookups. Text messaging may have made it easier for the author to live a pretty shallow, sex-filled life for a while, but it wasn’t what drew her to the sex in the first place.
Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, but every time a penis touches a vagina, those wings are violently ripped off and the world becomes a colder place through dark magic.
And of course the assumption that women are so foul and hard to be around that without leveraging sex to trick men into tolerating our company, we’re destined to be alone:
Why buy the cow when the milk is free?
That old adage, unfortunately, still applies.
It’s not about texting. It’s about keeping men frustrated enough with being single that they have some desire to marry and be good fathers.
I’ve never understood why women should be eager to have men around who are hating every moment of it and would be gone in a flash if they could get sex some other way.