In Lisa Unger’s mystery novel Under My Skin, the protagonist Poppy glances at her phone and reflects on what has happened to her relationships because of texting. “Relationships scrolling out in bubbles, text disembodied from voice and body, language pared down to barest meaning” is “far less meaningful than actual conversation.”
Even though these words are fictional, they ring true. They resonate. We have replaced real conversation and real relationships with a poor digital imitation. They are like products with artificial flavoring or colorized movies or cheap laminated furniture materials.
In the Star Trek series and movies, the replicator made it possible to enjoy any food or drink you wanted from any planet or culture or era. But space travelers treasured real ale from some alien race or a real apple from planet earth. There was nothing like the real thing.
No one says, “I wanted to see your words.” We say, “I just wanted to hear your voice.” We save and replay voice messages again and again.
Bubble relationships are convenient, but two-dimensional. The words have no actual feelings though we try to extract emotion from them. Text messages may be adorned with emoji, but they lack the hint of a smile, shifting of an eye, the furrow of a brow, or a subtle chuckle. Most texting is quick and efficient, with little thought to grammar, vocabulary, or spelling. (Unless it is a lengthy text, and who reads all the way through those?)
In an actual conversation, eyes tear up. Legs nervously bounce. Fingernails have been chewed. Breath smells like alcohol. Some words come quickly. Other sentences are punctuated with long pauses. Lips purse. Fingers drum on the table. Hands fold.
What has happened to our relationships?