Last night, I was very nearly cock-blocked by my own Twitter addiction.
I know that sounds like a pithy, convenient opener, but I promise on all my past, present and future dogs that it actually happened. I was at my favorite outdoor bar, drinking what was far from my first whiskey ginger of the night, and things were just starting to veer down “Furtive Public Makeout Alley” for my friends and me.
Suddenly, I saw my phone light up. Lo and behold, it was the venerable Tynan, replying to my Twitter brag that I had swigged some whiskey out of a bottle wielded by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) earlier that night.
“Sorry, gotta take this,” I said, ducking my date’s questing nuzzle and turning away from her to straddle the bench. As Tynan and I tweeted excitedly at each other (with Marianne eventually joining in on the fun), I heard Alison sigh.
“Why bother making out with her?” she snarked at another friend sitting across the table. “She’s just gonna go on her phone as soon as you stop for breath.”
Ouch. But maybe kind of true. Because did I eventually go back to kissing Alison? Absolutely. Did I also sneak off to the bathroom twice to shoot off replies to my Internet friends across the country? 100% yes. Whoops.
Seriously, why anyone bothers interacting with me at all is a continuous mystery to me. Alison did eventually forgive me for my idiocy, but she gave me the kind of look that people usually reserve for the person napping on the floor of an H&M dressing room on Black Friday. Contemptuous, disbelieving and a little like she wanted to murder me with a coat hanger.
I’m really not in favor of texting other people while out with friends, particularly if you’re having one-on-one time. It’s tacky as hell; to me, it seems like you’re just aching to have a friend-date with someone who made the poor decision not to join you on this particular night. In my experience, it makes the person you’re with feel like absolute crap.
But for some reason, Twitter and other social media exist in a grayer area for me. The likelihood that I’ll slip into that monosyllabic “I’m not paying a single attention to the world in front of me” grunting that I associate with texting someone else seems a lot less if I’m, say, just posting a photo to Instagram or something.
The trouble, of course, is that they call it “social” media for a reason. Could I easily go days without checking my Tumblr? Probably, especially if I didn’t feel like sobbing over animated photographs of teacup pigs at three in the morning. But the minute my phone feels the need to inform me that someone has liked my Doctor Who photoset or a link I posted about intersectionality, I revert back to being hunched over it in the corner, stabbing fruitlessly at the screen like a chimp offered a kiwi in exchange for solving a math problem.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I carry around the fear that if I don’t immediately respond to stimuli, whoever is doing the stimulating will reject all future interactions with me. This is probably why I have been known to wake up in the morning to find that I’ve already sent several e-mails from that dim space between “yearning for coffee” and “dreaming about Rob Lowe.”
It’s the whole “instant gratification” aspect that’s so insidious. According to a University of Chicago survey, because of that instant-response factor, most people my age get more satisfaction out of going on Facebook and Twitter than actually having sex.
As "Brave New World" as that might seem, I can totally see it. Sex is fun, and I am definitely a fan, but sometimes it’s also kind of hard (no pun intended, har har har). For someone like me, who’s not in a monogamous relationship, it often involves elaborate schemes of texting and burrito-related seduction. When I’m bored and horny on a given Monday night, my attempted mating process usually goes like this:
1)Find photograph of Emma Watson.
2)Realize abrupt need for two-person orgasm.
3)Send enterprising text to date. No response.
4)Send enterprising text to a different date. No response.
5)Sigh, stare at phone, reconcile self to life picking pieces of Wheat Thins out of that weird fold between ass cheek and upper thigh.
6)Receive gently interested text from date.
7-15) Spend much heartache and data plan on trying to establish a location and time for said rendezvouz.
16) Abruptly remember deadline for tomorrow morning.
17) Send sad emoticon of dolphin emoji. Hope date understands inability to function as an adult human.
You get the picture. At the end of the night, I often wonder whether my time would have been better spent getting repeated, tiny zips of dopamine from my Instagram feed rather than trying to execute a full-blown two-person interaction. Hell, why bother going on dates at all, when one can just scroll for hours through photos of baby bats wrapped in blankets and masturbate furiously to a Russian women folding towels? Zero effort required, save occasional Gatorade breaks to forego dehydration.
It’s hard, with my current schedule, to justify not saving that much time, even if it means less pleasure overall. Flirting and establishing relationships are great and all, but they don't have that zing of the effortless reinforcement about them. They may be more meaningful in the long run, but it's hard to remind yourself of that when your tentative makeout advancements have been rejected for the frillionth time.
Granted, I’m being a little hyperbolic. The occasional inconvenience of orchestrating makeouts does not mean that I’d be willing to forego it completely to live in a tomb of fan videos and Spotify playlists dedicated to fictional characters. I adore my dates, and I feel genuinely bad when I let my constant need to be plugged in get the better of me.
But I think where a lot of collar-clutching news outlets tend to get it wrong is that for a lot of people, myself included, social media doesn't only require throwing words at a screen. Not being face-to-face with someone doesn’t necessarily reduce all of your interactions with them to meaningless drivel. Even sexily chatting with someone over OKCupid feels a hell of a lot different than jacking off by yourself.
When I’m on Tumblr or Reddit or whatever, I am fully aware that there are other people on the other end of those interactions. When I was ignoring my date like a douchebag in favor of tweeting at Marianne and Tynan, I wasn’t excited because I was rolling around in the isolating Internet like a warm comforter. I was psyched because I like Marianne and Tynan as people, and I thought the fact that we were all chatting at each other in real-time was awesome.
I don’t think that getting a little too absorbed in social media is necessarily an indicator that I’m doomed to spend my life eating pickles with my hands in bed. I do, however, think that it’s essential to think of it in a similar way as physically going over and speaking with someone else in person, albeit with far less risk involved. Liking someone’s Instagram photo or Facebook status is at least as good as high-fiving them over coffee, and a cute dude winking at me on OKCupid provokes the same reaction in me as a comparably attractive man doing it on the city bus (disbelief, horror, mild bemusement).
So if I “choose” social media over having sex (in the nightmare universe where I am forced to choose between those two very specific things), then I’m actually choosing, for better or for worse, the people I’m interacting with through media over the people I’d be interacting with sexually. Does that make me less of a jerkwad for ignoring the world in favor of Twitter? Probably not. But at least I’m a fast-responding one.
If you tweet Kate @katchatters on a Saturday night, it’s highly likely that she’ll sneak into a bar bathroom and message you back. What fun!