When we were growing up, our instant-speed communiqués fed our split-second attention spans.
It was impossible to stay cool, calm and collected while waiting for your friend to hit Enter. So much potential drama and delicious intrigue swirled around the unknowns of that MSN Messenger text box. “[Username] is typing a message . . .” We watched the cast of Radio Free Roscoe wait impatiently for their friends to call, but little did they know the greater horrors of typing a message and waiting for someone to message you back.
These days, I hardly ever use Facebook chat, despite the fact that all my friends are on it in some form all the time — no more calling someone to tell them to go online. When I get home from work, I don’t check Yahoo! Messenger or ICQ before anything else, and if I stay up late swapping stories, it’s at the bar. But whenever I think about how much influence instant messaging and chat had on my social development as a kid, I fall into self-analysis.
As a writer, I used to consider my written work to be a purer form of my personality. Though what came out of my mouth was often less inhibited, the craft of putting words together one-by-one on the page made me feel like I was expressing myself better. For those of us who feel (or used to feel) pretty awkward in person, it was amazing to be able to share our deepest thoughts and emotions with our friends through the filter of text when it was often so hard to do so verbally.
I periodically do the time warp and read up on my past self’s conversations. Over time, I’ve realized I misused that filter. I leaned on it to reduce the shyness I felt in person and embolden me to say things I otherwise wouldn’t have said.
I subjected countless girls to my comical attempts at flirtation, and I foisted all manner of incredibly TMI content on my long-suffering pals. Not that they weren’t equally complicit; I’d argue our whole generation is a little guilty of pouring ourselves out via instant messaging. I can only imagine how things would have changed if I’d been forced to ask someone out in person or call out a hater to their face. How different would I be now, with another several years of confidence behind me? How different would all of us be?
I haven’t totally left that life behind. My girlfriend and I are both reasonably mature twenty-somethings with busy lives, and like many of you, we see each other in person less than we’d like. Our hobbies, jobs and passions keep us going, just as they would whether we were in relationships or not. But we still lean a little on that technological tin-can-and-string between us. A witty pun here, a flirtatious grin there and, once in a while, a reaching out for connection that is met with a warm-hearted reply. Whether an eight-hour night shift is crushing my spirits or a sunny bike ride with friends is lifting hers, the feeling that someone is just a message away means a lot.
Just don’t blow up your partner’s inbox completely. There are limits to love.
P.S. I kind of left you hanging after the last installment of Growing Pains, didn’t I? I ended up getting a lab coat from the UVic bookstore and going as Dr. Wilson from House for Halloween. I had a great time, too. Wearing something I felt handsome in helped me feel more comfortable, for sure. Most importantly, I was among friends, and it didn’t matter what we ended up doing.
Have a great holiday season, gang. Catch you on the flip side.