Thursday, October 30, 2008

Telephones, IM, Relationships, and Age

This article in the  New York Times had an interesting remark in passing:
"... But today, married women are more likely to spend late hours at the office and travel on business. And even for women who stay home,  cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging appear to be allowing them to form more intimate relationships, marriage therapists say. ..."
So it would appear that there are changes in relationships moderated by cell phones and instant messaging.

The last ten months has been an interesting time in my life relative to the above thesis. My wife has been in the process of opening a new business 3+hours drive from here. Thus she lives in another community during the week and we see each other only on the weekends, and not every weekend at that. Thus we spend a fair amount of time on the telephone (we are neither one big IM'ers, although we do exchange some email). The phone, in general, is not an implement well suited to conveying emotional messages, especially for our generation which grew up with the expensive AT&T monopoly during our formative telephone years.

By way of example, when we were in college, we could, if we kept and eye on the clock, afford to call home for five minutes once per week or less. Now with cell phone minute plans, it is easy to talk whenever and for as long as the spirit moves you. Unfortunately, I am not sure the old once a week method didn't lead to a better emotional connection than the every day anytime method. With the once a week call, you planned ahead, both parties arranged for the time to be free of distractions, and you very carefully mentally edited the topics of discussion to convey the emotional message most important to you at the time. Now with the anytime call, there is a lack of that planning and the addition of the random interruption factor as well. It can be very disconcerting when one is eager to convey something that is exciting and interesting and you either get shuffled off to voice mail or you get the other party but they are tied up and all you get is the old "I'm tied up right now with ABC. I'll call you back when its over. Bye."

The current situation is interesting because I can remember going through a similar thing in the early years of our married life when I was in California and she was in Illinois. Then the change in the AT&T monopoly was just starting and long distance was still very expensive (and cell phones but a gleam in the future with the first email message not due to be sent for a year of more). Thus it was the once or twice a week phone call rather than the call on spur of the moment. It meant that many upsetting events in day to day life were elided from the conversations. It also meant that the ambush phone call where one spouse or the other desperately needs emotional support *right now* didn't occur often and when they did you knew it was a very serious issue.

Now we can call each other at any time. Unfortunately, we both spend a lot of time in meetings with the ringer turned off. Thus we have adapted to a modified version of the old methods where we generally call each other at the same time every day. There are sporadic extra calls as things come up that need to be discussed. I suspect that if we were thirty years younger in our twenties, the patterns of contact (including IMing) would be completely different. What do you think? Does the presence of cell phone and IM really constitute a difference in the intimacy factor in relationships? Is the change for the good?

1 comment:

  1. Ok, now I understand it all. I'm glad you directed us to this post. This was before I came on the scene so I didn't know this.

    As per your question above, I think the fact that my kids have cell phones and instant messaging actually keeps us especially close. They're in constant contact with me by their own choosing!


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