By: Carly Mitchell Edited By: Megan Montgomery
My iPhone: a convenient, pocket-sized computer that is simultaneously the bane of my existence and my savior. At times I find myself getting lost in the texts, emails and social media notifications to a point of mental exhaustion, making it a necessity for me to set aside time to disconnect. Even still, disconnecting is hard. It’s hard to let go of the instant gratification and connection that my cell phone provides, especially when it allows me to stay in touch with loved ones.
I live in Nashville while my two best friends live across the country: one in LA and the other in Virginia. Our busy lifestyles and tight budgets keep us from flying to visit each other. Therefore we text. Whether it’s a simple “hi just want u to know I’m thinking of u,” or a paragraph explaining all of the life-haps, we are able to remain close as long as there is some sort of contact. But, what if texting wasn’t an option? Would we become distant? Would these relationships fall apart?
Researchers Nicholas Brody and Charee Mooney from Arizona State University, as well as Stacy Westerman and Patrick McDonald from University of Texas-Austin, were interested in uncovering the ways that people use computer mediated communication (CMC) to maintain their relationships or – in other words – ensure their relationships’ existence. They discuss five strategies used for relationship maintenance: positivity, openness, assurances, networks and sharing tasks. They hypothesized that people use text messaging as a relational maintenance tool. The main question to be answered: through text messaging, which relational maintenance strategies do participants use with friends?
To answer their question, Brody, Mooney, Westerman and McDonald conducted a study consisting of undergraduate college students who were asked to complete an online survey. Results of the survey supported the researchers’ hypothesis; people do in fact use text messaging as a relational maintenance tool, and friends use frequency of text messaging to display openness, assurances and networking; it is the central part of CMC.
I decided to participate in a 72-hour digital cleanse to answer two main questions: Will I feel disconnected from my friends across the country, and will my chakras be more in-line afterwards? During this time, text messaging and social media were off limits. I like to think that my relationships are strong enough to withstand seventy-two hours void of text messaging, but the results were mixed.
My LA friend is my closest one. We can go weeks without talking and even if we haven’t verbally expressed it, we know that things are okay despite our lack of communication. We describe ourselves as “on the same wavelength.” We lived in the same town for a couple of years, and even during that time we would call and mail each other letters, texting only sometimes, mostly if I had an “out there” idea that I just couldn’t hold in. When it came time to cleanse, I didn’t tell her and we didn’t speak throughout, but it felt normal. I knew that our relationship was solid and that if I didn’t respond to a message, she wouldn’t get offended or furious. She would simply move on with her day and maybe follow up a few days later if she felt like it.
My relationship with my Virginia friend, on the other hand, is much different. We assure one another that our relationship is intact by texting frequently throughout the day and when we don’t, it feels like there is a void that can’t be filled until we do. Texting is the main and nearly only way we stay in touch and a majority of our messages consist of telling each other about our day and other current events. I didn’t inform her of the cleanse until I felt the need to send her an email at the end of the day explaining myself. She responded the next day saying she was happy she checked her email because she thought she had upset me. It was probably unwise to avoid responding to her email, but I am entirely inadequate at making people feel better over the internet.
I am notorious for going hours and even days before responding to a text message. Those who know me well are aware of this, but the people who don’t know this likely feel ignored, which is why during the early stages of my relationships, I will usually jokingly say something along the lines of “Hey just so you know I am terrible at texting and will probably ignore you for days on end.” But this doesn’t define how I value my friends. I just prefer to talk in person.
On top of text messaging, I use social media. Mainly as a way to procrastinate. Instead of doing homework, I scroll through Instagram. Instead of watering my plants, I mindlessly read political Tweets. But without having these platforms to distract me, I aced my exam and extended my plant’s life a little longer. There was time. I cried for the first time in months, not because something devastating happened, but because I had time to reflect. I started writing again instead of avoiding my emotions by scrolling. I laid on the floor and stared at my white, unevenly painted ceiling and was okay with it. I see why they call it a “cleanse:” my mind felt truly lighter, and I was better able to positively interact with the people right in front of me without worrying about other things that may be happening.
The answer to my question is: It depends on the relationship. My LA friend and I can survive without texting each other every day or even every week, but I’m not sure if that’s the case with my Virginia friend. Either way, I am grateful to be able to keep in touch with people who live hundreds of miles away, even if we have to text to stay afloat. In the past I’ve played with the idea of quitting social media cold turkey, but a question I always asked myself was “Will I still be a person if I go M.I.A.?” I decided to meet myself in the middle and erase all social media except for Instagram, because I’m not quite sure if I’m ready to part ways with it entirely. Maybe one day I’ll be okay with not being a person. But until then, I’ll continue to entertain the technology-reliant side of my brain.