Hi Group…my name is Suzanne and I have a Skype dependency. I can’t stop checking to see if the little red message indicator has popped up, and I check the status of my contacts way too often. If I decide “No more” and turn Skype off, it’s only a matter of time before the pendulum swings the other way and I then decide that I really should be available, Just in Case. In extreme phases, I can do this several times in a day. I know, dear Skype Dependency Group, that I have a problem.
The thing is, it isn’t really my fault. (I know, I know; I’m supposed to take responsibility – maybe at the next meeting). It all started when an acquaintance declared that he could only communicate by messaging – texts, emails and skype (and only text, no video). In a misguided effort to be understanding and kind, I went along with this. “How novel”, I thought, “How very modern”. As it turned out, How Very Wrong.
The problem with any kind of messaging relationship is its two dimensionality. You never see the other person therefore you immediately miss out on all the expressions we take for granted – tones of voice, eyebrows up or down, smiles or not, and of course the all-telling body language. Due to the vagaries of one’s typing skills, you can also misunderstand the messages quite easily – something you think is clear turns out not to be when it arrives at the receiving end, and vice versa. OMG WTF 🙂 may be perfectly clear to you, but things get tedious when you have to explain it to your recipient. You then have to have a side-bar sort of conversation to clarify what was meant about five paragraphs back in the message chain. If you were communing in person, this misunderstanding could be observed with a look, and resolved with a sentence. FYI, and BTW, a smiley face is not a substitute for actually smiling at, or with, someone.
You also expose yourself to a degree of rudeness that you would never tolerate in person. For example, if you feel like a chat, and start a conversation with a simple Hullo, if the other person doesn’t feel like talking to you, or there’s something on TV they’d really rather watch, then they just don’t answer or turn themselves offline. You are then left wondering if a) they got the message or b) they are the rudest most self-centered bastard you’ve ever met. The old classic “I didn’t get the message – it must be still out there somewhere in cyberspace” doesn’t cut it. Your correspondent (one uses the word loosely) then sends you a message at a time of their choosing, and you are left to wonder if a) you should be the grownup and respond politely or b) block them for ever from your contact list. Thus, you can have a domestic row without ever exchanging a word. Ah, modern communication has come so far.
If text/Skype messaging was one of a range of communication forms in a relationship, it would probably be absolutely fine – we all use mobile texts to find each other or the restaurant we’re supposed to have met at half an hour ago. The difficulties occur when it is the main form of communication – it can’t really evolve into anything much, as typing in a room on your own is not how you get to know someone. Quite good however, for keeping your distance, if that’s what you want to do. Bit lonely, though, I would have thought.
Note, dear Group, that there is a certain dark satisfaction in blocking people, second only to deleting them if they’ve really made you mad. The Skype status option is another area fraught with misapprehension, and it’s extraordinary how much a person can read into someone changing their status. He went Offline just as I came Online – was that on purpose? Is it an intentional insult or has there been a powercut at his house and has he fallen down the stairs and is now sitting at the bottom entangled with a potted plant and an umbrella stand? The current Skype status options are Online, Away, Invisible, Do Not Disturb and Offline. I’m going to write to Skype and suggest that they add a few more status options, as follows: I Need To Talk Now And I Don’t Care If You Don’t, Never Call Me Again, If It’s Going To Be All About You Then Don’t Send Me A Message and lastly, in the words of Freddy Mercury, Find Me Somebody To Love. I think these new and improved status indicators would go some way to revealing one’s state of mind in a text relationship, don’t you?