We've reached a fascinating point. To a degree, it harbingers back to hand-written letters from colonial wars and fabled loves developed across monarchical boundaries: The pen — or at least the touch screen and keypad — is once again on equal footing with spoken word in the sphere of love.
After a long, arduous battle following the advent of the telephone and the near death of the formal letter, English's silent medium is once again advancing against its aural foe.
We're at a point in which members of Generation Y can't fathom pursuing romantic engagements without the faculties of the printed word. Well, at least the illuminated word.
Text messages have taken the place of gentle touches to the lower back; asking for a phone number has given way to friending and wall posts on Facebook. We're at the precipice of the foundation of Western dating: the date, stemming more often from the written word than phone calls or face-to-face contact.
The dating website eHarmony claimed that one in 50 American marriages last year tied back to pairs that met on its site, for a total of nearly 236 algorithmically arranged unions per day over the preceding 12 months.
With the new paradigm comes an entirely new set of rules and skills. Can you make the subject of affection laugh with a single line? Brevity and wit find themselves at a new premium. How much information does one put in a note to a prospective lover? What's personal narrative and what's simply too much information (tmi)? How long does one wait to respond to a text? What about a longer message? Does one slow-play, perhaps waiting as long as he or she took to respond to the original message? Does one shoot back a snarky response immediately from a mobile device?
As we return to semi-written pursuits and redefine the rules and tact for such courting from the cloud, I wonder what is lost. Certainly, those who fell in love by way of ink and page will doubt that today's digital mediums offer the same depth or passion as their voluminous correspondences. But those whose marriages emerged from backlit byte-based confessions would probably argue the contrary.
Will this all lead to a more literate generation? Will young men and women in search of the perfect 140-character twitters or texts go in search of sonnets and historic prose? It's rather doubtful; the command of the written word that lends itself to such lust-driven authorship is rather utilitarian. But who knows; the art of attraction remains in being more clever, more unique, and more hilarious.
But what about the digital smokescreen? Aren't well all just pushing our own personal boundaries further now that so much can be said by moving fingers rather than lips, now that we have cushions of miles to protect us from a possibly negative reaction? To some extent, being behind a screen, whether it's 17 inches or three-and-a-quarter inches, inevitably emboldens each of us. But is that a bad thing? Can't it make for a more honest portrait of our emotions and desires?
Barring one-night stands, it's nearly impossible to find a relationship in young America at this point that isn't reliant upon — or at least founded from — the typed word.
They may not be eloquent or stunning words, but at least the world is writing again. Even if the driving forces are as primal as any. Who knows, maybe a volume of the most moving tweets and electronic sonnets might be in the works at the moment.
Brian Till, one of the nation's youngest syndicated columnists, is a research fellow for the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington. He can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about the author and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.