Does abstinence make the heart grow fonder? How about calmer?
As our “devices” own us ever more, we hear talk of digital fasting and abstinence. (It’s curious how in America the primary meaning of “device” is an electrical invention connected to the internet, a meaning that supersedes older denotations such as scheme, trick, plan, rhetorical tool, or signifying mark. It is also instructive that the roots of the word go back to both “discourse” and “division.”)
Don’t be alarmed. This is not a sermon preaching a Luddite message of unplugging, however worthy that be.
This is something else.
Does the less you connect make you that much more coveted? The novelist Thomas Pynchon is legendary for his elusiveness, his absence. Photographs of the author are rare. J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, was famously anonymous, to use an oxymoron, even though he was living in plain sight in Cornish, New Hampshire. Their unreachability presumably made reaching out to them all the more alluring. When we see a sign that warns us to avoid “WET PAINT,” we want to touch it.
I have a friend, who happens to be a writer, who has never had and does not now have a cellphone. That makes him singular in my universe. (Actually, not so: my mom, 101 years old, had a cellphone she never used and does not have one now.)
Does this lack of a device make such people “special”? I have my doubts. From my vantage, such folks surrender such status by relying on other cellphone users to breach the digital divide.
My personal history in this vein is inconclusive. I resisted owning a smartphone because I thought the device would own me. I surrendered in 2015. Although upgrading my phone had little to do with feeling either more or less connected, I couldn’t be special anymore by smugly declaring, “Oh. I don’t own a cell. You kidding? Not me.”
I would suggest that the business world and the personal world abide by different social norms regarding digital abstinence, fasting, and promptness — a category similar to fasting, though paucity and duration are different aspects.
As for my own personal world, my data set is a small sample: one person with a limited circle of family, ex-wives and girlfriends, friends, and acquaintances.
I aim for a daily text to my children. Some days I miss. If any of us were to go silent for more than a day, two the most, we would find a need to check in more actively.
What about intimate friends (there’s a euphemism if there ever was one)? What are the 21st century protocols — if any — for response rapidity and frequency? What is the fine line between playing hard to get and crossing over into the phenomenon of ghosting? Is the notion of “hard to get” an ancient artifact of another century?
If I am interested in someone, my obsessive personality makes it nearly impossible to refrain from checking my phone (ahem, device) for any morsel of communication at any hour of day or night or under any circumstance, time, or place.
Is this constant temperature gauging an infinite neurosis, or merely the commonplace anxiety of the modern age?
Send me a text. Now. Don’t leave me waiting.