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Social media and the long-distance relationship by Meg Stivison

Posted on April 10, 2011 at 1:10 PM

I love the cyberpunk connectivity that social networks and ubiquitous smartphones have brought us. I'm excited by new technology creating new social patterns, by the endless, everywhere conversation of texting and the instant connection when photos of distant friends appear in my hands. Every day it's easier to connect based on interest and affection, and not only geography.

I love it, of course I do, but somehow the side of me that's taught English still cringes at some of what passes for communication.

Do you know what I mean? I hate a perfectly good verb like fail turned into a noun, and then overused. I hate an emoticon used as a crutch to make one's meaning clear, instead of choosing vocabulary more carefully.  I've devoted more class time than I'd like to admit to explaining that texting acronyms don't belong in an essay. I empathize with my students' insistence that everyone writes like this, but I still suggest that they look for a synonym for she was :(, and remind them that 2 is neither to nor too.

I'm not sure whether to laugh at the hilarious back-formation or cry at the perversion of my beloved English language when my students hug and tell each other "I less than three you!"

But then... I met somebody. This is hard to convey by text and tweet, but picture me, saying, with heavy emphasis, that I'd met someone. And, after enumerating his amazing qualities, probably ad nauseum, I'd get around to telling you that this particular somebody has the misfortune of living in a different time zone.

He's a great guy, and he meets the requirements for a long distance boyfriend, which is to say he texts affectionately and knows the difference between your and you're. And he passes the test for digital age honesty, the photos and comments on his Facebook wall always match what he tells me.

A few weeks into this long-distance flirtation, and now I understand the appeal. An XOXO, formerly the province of childhood birthday cards, makes a forwarded link or a catch-you-later email suddenly affectionate. This would always be sweet, but becomes essential with miles in the middle.

As more of my time is spend exchanging texts and annotated links, I'm even reconsidering the juvenile silliness of ASCII icons, considering complicated character flowers and expressions less substitution for textual communication, and more embellishment of his words. This is the digital equivalent of a margin doodle, a perfect example of distant affection.

I don't think I'll be OMG-ing any time soon, or cn u l8tr, but I'm revising my stance on smileys and XOXO.

I'm just not sure if I less-than-three him yet. 

Categories: Meg Stivison

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