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Val Brown

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Love In The Time Of Electronica

Posted: 04/22/08 06:31 PM ET

I'd had a hard day at the office, sending telexes in bad French for the trendy Eurotrash nightclub where I was working. For those of you unfamiliar with this "ancient" form of communication, the telex was only marginally more advanced than smoke signals, and required the typing of a brail-like tape, later fed through the contraption, words supposedly being spit out on the recipients' machine. My low-tech life continued into the evening, now waiting at home, Friday night, for the latest 'him' to ring. I would wait all night, un-rung.

The year, of course, was sometime in the early 80s. No faxes (heavens, I am old), no Internet, no cell phones, and worst of all, no answering machines. The dying days of the Prehistoric Dating Era. (Apologies to those who thought this blog would be about electronic erotica. Perhaps another day). This pre-technological period in romantic relations required fortitude and finesse and was better withstood by those with a) a steady boyfriend b) a homely roommate who would stay at home and act as your secretary or c) self-confidence and a disregard for whether or not he called.

With the arrival of the answering machine, women spilled into the streets shouting "Hallelujah!," squinting in the light, unshackled at last from telephonic servitude. But the early machine had limitations. You had to be at home to listen to the messages. You could have the satisfaction that he had called, but you might miss seeing him that night. This was long before The Rules, when you were still allowed to go out with a guy even if they called last minute for a date that night. It was so much simpler then.

The answering machine beeper advanced the cause. A convenient purse-sized device, you'd play it into the mouthpiece of a phone, tapping into messages at home. Running out of my favorite haunt every half hour to the corner pay phone, I'd beep in, and if finally he called, waited for a respectable amount of time (20 minute minimum) to call back in my most studied casual voice. It being the 80s and all, it's also possible I might've have been waiting for a call from a cocaine dealer. The corner pay phone formed part of my Bogota Triangle, the sprint from bar to phone to ATM (yes, the brand spanking new ATM! Cash at Will! Danger!) part of the regular exercise regimen for me and many a denizen of my Upper West Side hang-out.

As we know, new freedoms were on the horizon. The cell phone was the emancipation proclamation, and the internet brought not just another form of communication but an entire new discipline (googling), dedicated to finding out about the new guy, the guy you would be sitting next to at a dinner party, the guy in the next cubicle, and of course, the holy grail of googling, the guys you used to go out with. Some people call it information gathering, some cyber-stalking. Me, I just call it fun. To google is to breathe. Fortunately, with a name like Brown, I'm a pretty fruitless google, beyond this blog. Really, you'd need to go to page 135 or so, and of course no one ever does. Most are not so lucky.

But (too much) information does not shield you from the dangers presented by our newfound ease of communication. You can contact too often, hoping for a reply and a 'hit' of him. You can send an email or leave messages in a flurry of emotion and later regret it. You can feel your heart sink when you get forwarded to voice mail after a few rings, caller ID having led to your being banished to recorded purgatory. Dilemma -- do you leave a message (casual, of course), or just hang up? Because once you leave that message, your hands are tied. You really can't call again for a while, and then only with a very creative (and nearly always transparent) excuse, relinquishing your option to actually catch him, alive.

Of course, many of us have been on both sides of this modern mating mind-fuck. And with the ability to be in constant contact, a new genre of excuses has been born. "There was only one bar left on my phone." "I was out of range." "I don't text." Or the modern classic, "I lost my phone for a day." Sometimes true no doubt, sometimes he's just not that into you, or you're just not that into him. Not surprisingly, these modern excuses do not alter the time honored dynamics of romance or the range of emotions they produce. They're absolutely no different from that old-time feeling of sitting at home... waiting. .

 

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