The 80% of Us

I had to walk to the 7-Eleven because I’d run out of necessities like hot dog buns. While I was walking, I was listening to an episode of The Diane Rehm Show that featured Sherry Turkle, an expert on digital education and how technology is changing the population in general. I know for sure it changed my relationship with Dana, Argo, and Aaron… all in different ways.

With Dana, there was the obvious “we both check out on our phones when we’re doing nearly anything.” In fact, I would say that our entire relationship changed when Dana got an iPhone, because then both of us were using our phones as our computers, and therefore, it changed our interactions with each other. There were times when we’d instant message in the same house, and that’s not weird. Studies show that it happens to families all over the world, not just ours. When she had a “dumb phone,” she pulled me away from my electronics. It wasn’t her responsibility to do so, but she did… and I did not know how grateful to be for that until tonight. When we both took time out to look things up, something else would grab our attention, and whatever we’d been talking about would be lost. It also made it much easier for us to be wrong or right in an argument about a fact, because instead of just talking about it, we’d Google the answer. We are both trivia nerds, so it was not unusual for us to get in minor scrapes over when the elevator was invented, or whether Cezanne or Gougin painted a particular painting, or what the fuck ever. Even if I knew the answer cold, even based on past conversations I’d had with her, Dana would still take out her phone and look it up. When I was right, she was never as happy as when I was wrong. I’m not the best loser, but I always tried to pretend it didn’t matter to me as not to up the ante….

But it did. Technology changed our relationship for both better and worse, because there were times when I genuinely wanted to look things up as well… we’d sit next to each other and share the screen, both interested in reading the Wikipedia article. That was when technology was an amazing help. Other times, I wanted to talk to connect with her, and stopping to look something up provided what I now believe was an unnecessary distraction.

I will say for the record that she comes by it honestly. I got in a scrape with her dad over whether you could check in at an airline with an iPhone, and I said you could. When he verbally wrestled me to the ground, I printed out an article showing him you could. He still said I was wrong because you couldn’t check in the entire party on one phone. Bambergers do not like to be wrong, so perhaps that was a piece of wisdom I missed in all of Dana’s fact-checking. It’s in her DNA.

Yet another place where I could have been more giving and just let things slide. The thing is, though, because we could see each other, there was also a lot of hugging, kissing, jokes, and laughter.

With Argo, I learned from this podcast that only 20% of communication is verbal, and some studies push it down to 7%. So to say that we knew each other was relative. I know I made the mistake of thinking I knew her better than I did, and I would say the same of her. Our ideas of each other’s personalities were skewed by quite a bit because we never saw each other in the context of facial expressions, tones in our voices, etc. I realized that in a lot of our e-mails, I was inferring her tone rather than knowing it, and that piece made all the difference. Maybe if I could have heard her tone of voice in her writing, I would have said a lot of things differently, gave a lot more when I saw she was upset, etc. I also know that it’s a lot easier to reveal things about yourself that you wouldn’t say if someone was sitting right in front of you, so there’s that.

Actions and reactions on paper are totally different than in person… and totally different than on the phone. There are so many levels to communication that it was a mistake to limit ourselves to only one. My words hurt her, and I couldn’t see it. Her words hurt me, and she couldn’t see it. There was no way to just chill. There was no way to see tears and respond to them. There was no way to know whether we were joking or serious without a fuckton of emoticons. In a way, it was a great release to be able to send my words out into the ether, but when my words didn’t engender the response I thought they would, there was no way for us to look at each other and come to complete resolution. The part that I *do* know about Argo is that she is the most hilarious person I’ve ever met in my life, but it’s a hard road back to hilarity when talking about something serious in only black and white. She entered my life as a “Fanagan,” so in effect, the thing that drew her to me became something she despised.

But it’s ok. She only knew 20% of me, and I only knew 20% of her. Who knows what would have happened had we known the other 80%? I don’t know whether it would be better or worse, but I do know that it would be different.

With Aaron, it’s an interesting dichotomy. We have known each other in a friend-intimate way. He knows he can have whatever he wants out of my fridge, and I know that both of us feel a real loss in terms of “going nowhere with you.” We called it “running Aarons.” However, now that we’re in different cities, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve talked on the phone. Now our relationship is much more like the one I had with Argo, checking in with each other online all the time… the difference being that I’ve been around him long enough that most of the time, when I infer his tone, it’s correct, because I’ve been there day in and day out to know how he would say something and sometimes, why he would say it. At the same time, though, I don’t know how he has grown in the time that I’ve left, and I have to make room for it. So maybe I know 40% of him. 60% on a good day. 😛

As for me, I have gotten the strange telephobia that’s sweeping the nation. With me, I want to see you in person, or I want to write to you. That middle ground, for some reason, has become lost to me. When I was younger, I could spend hours on the phone. Now, a phone call makes me sweat. It’s common knowledge that getting over a fear is tackling it head-on, so perhaps being single right now is better for me because I don’t get to bargain with Dana over whether she’ll call for me or not. I don’t have a choice whether to face my fear. I just have to muscle through it, along with a lot of other people.

And in all of this, my only question is whether we are creating new forms of dialogue, or destroying something that can’t be replaced. Sometimes people need to hear my voice. Sometimes people need to be able to hug me. Sometimes, there need to be conversations that cannot be interrupted because someone liked my status.

I’d continue this entry, but my phone just went off. I hope it’s a letter, but it’s probably just spam. It doesn’t matter. You know I’m going to look anyway.

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