Ode to Gchat, or Why Our Lives Make Bad TV

My grandmother–not the one who is 100, but the one with a PhD and a social calender busier than mine and whose age I would tell you, but then I’d have to kill you–forwarded me a link the other day. It was from NPR’s arts blog, Monkey See, and she asked if I knew the author.

Before I’d had a chance to fully roll my eyes (bless her news junkie heart, this grandmother loves to forward articles that I don’t always love to read), I saw that the author was, in fact, my friend and writing/life mentor, Sara Sarasohn. Eagerly, I read. The post is about two new network dramas, “Parenthood” and “Modern Family”; being a graduate student, of course, I hadn’t  heard of either. But that didn’t make her post any less interesting, or relevant.

It’s about the fact that, in order for television to realistically portray family relationships, they have to present them as different in one fundamental way: rather than communicating via technology, these fictive relatives actually see one another. In person!

I contemplated the entertainment value of a “Sex and the City” episode in which, rather than spend time with a man she’s dating–or even rather than talking to him on the phone–Carrie communicates the way most people my age do as their romantic liasons begin: over texting, and gchat.

As with New York, soy milk and Facebook, my relationship with gchat swings the pendulum from love to hate. It’s great for catching up with long-distance friends while doing other things, terrible for actually trying to accomplish these things when said friends want to talk. It’s great for casually getting to know one another in the early stages of a relationship, terrible once the relationship is over and you’ve got to stare daily at the small green dot next to their name and wonder whether they’ve clicked on the link beneath yours and read your blog posts about them.

Once, I attempted to date a man who communicated only via gchat. At one point I instructed him to call me, and it took only a few, painful, minutes of talking on the phone to wish that I hadn’t. (Later, he told me that he got “freaked out” when I suggested that he consider buying a bed. Despite both of these things, I managed to convince myself that he would probably make an ideal husband. Have I mentioned that I do this a lot? I’m working on it: it’s been a few weeks.)

While I was slow to come around to the instant message world–for years I scoffed when my friend P told me that he and another friend of ours “talked” every day via IM–I’ve grown to recognize it’s benefits. It’s easy, it’s convenient, it allows for compulsive multitasking. In short: it requires very little effort. And perhaps because of this, it’s often easy to get into weightier conversations online than one might have in person: don’t know about yours, but in general my laptop screen is a bit less intimidating, and more predictable, than an actual man’s face.

This isn’t always a bad thing: some of those serious conversations would probably never happen if not for gchat, and usually they should. And in most normal, healthy relationships–I hear–it’s not the only means of contact. But there’s always risk in attempting meaningful engagement without the presence of tangible human behaviors. At least the phone provides tone of voice and intonation, with internet-talk you’ve got absolutely nothing to go on. It may be an easy place to get into “serious” subjects, but it is also, certainly, a dangerous one. Not to mention supremely un-interesting.

As usual, Sara put it more eloquently than I ever could–so I’m going to end my post by stealing the end of hers:

“Even as we spend more and more time in front of screens every day, the screen we watch the most — the television — still depends on people, family and friends, who look into each other’s eyes with anger or love or desire. And however sophisticated technology gets, that can still only happen in person.”


Filed under Love Life

3 responses to “Ode to Gchat, or Why Our Lives Make Bad TV

  1. Megan

    That is such a good point about how on television people still communicate a lot in person. Sort of scary to think that the TV version of people do a better job of communicating than we do! These technologies are great ways of supplementing communication, but like you said, there is no way to replace the face to face. And actually a lot of conversations are quite dangerous to have over chat because you are missing such a huge range of sound and behavioral cues. But it is nice to be able to talk to people who are far away.

  2. I know – it is a conundrum. Gchat is so convenient and allows me to talk to people who I probably otherwise wouldn’t, at least with any regularity. But those weightier conversations can definitely be a danger zone. As usual, I have no actual solution to this problem – but I’m glad you can relate!

  3. The last quote reminds me eerily of Fahrenheit 451.

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