As the prison warden in the classic Paul Newman film “Cool Hand Luke” says: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Not that communication between me and my husband has ceased to exist or anything. It’s just gone digital, and that often gets in the way of us truly connecting with each other.
First, some background. My husband is a computer nerd from way back. He used to build his own computers from scratch before home computers were sold at the mall. He was in the very first AOL chat rooms, flirting with girls across the country by suggesting they join him in raids of other chat rooms whose politics he disagreed with.
I’m talking circa 1993, before we’d met, and before most of us had even heard of the Internet.
And don’t get me wrong: technology has definitely served us as a couple. It’s terrific to have an IT department on retainer 24/7. I’m terrible with computers. When navigating my way around a complicated website, every impulse I have tends to be wrong. And my figuring out how to place a personal ad on Nerve.com literally brought John and I together.
After I placed my online personal ad, John contacted me within a week. On our first real date, he took me to see the L.A. Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles. We got all dressed up. I wore my fake fur jacket and strappy sandals; he wore a jacket and tie. After the concert, we went to a dive bar in Koreatown called Frank N Hanks and got plastered. We started dating. We made each other laugh a lot. We were camped out in the same general vicinity on the political spectrum. We both liked crossword puzzles, cats and a lot of the same music and movies. We did what everyone expected us to do — we fell in love. But you know how we found out all these things we had in common? We talked to each other.
Now that we’re married, we text each other while in the same apartment, in lieu of hollering from room to room. We subscribe to each other’s Twitter feeds, Instagram feeds and Facebook status updates. We comment and “like.” Technology connects us to each other several times a day. For a while, this was fun.
But John’s mobile Internet use seemed to increase exponentially each year. If we had to wait together — for a table at a restaurant or for a movie to start — he’d go online. At first, I didn’t care much. I’m an accomplished enough daydreamer to keep myself occupied for a while. As time wore on, though, my patience wore out. The last straw was when he checked his Twitter feed in the vet’s office while we waited to find out if our beloved cat with terminal stomach cancer had to be put down.
I confronted John about his online habit. I said it shortened his attention span; it curbed his humanity. He said it kept him informed and engaged him with the rest of the world. Each time I brought it up, we fought. He was an insensitive lout; I was an insecure harpy. Around and around we went for years.
The argument went something like:
John: You know what I’m doing online. I’m reading the news and keeping up with my political blogs. You don’t mind if I read the paper in front of you or a magazine or book. What’s the difference?
Amy: When you’re online, it’s like you go somewhere else. The Internet is a place. I’m sick of hanging out with someone who’s staring at a tiny screen.
We finally turned the corner on this, however, and I acknowledge that this technique may only work if you’re married to my husband.