herald

Thursday 17 August 2017

In which I go dating in the dark

ights were blazing, music was blaring and pots were boiling before the power cut last Saturday. As luck would have it, my long-distance lover was arriving that evening to meet the clan for the first time. God was clearly in playful humour. Deep ... exhaaaale.

He was introduced by candlelight and told on countless occasions to mind his step. "I swear we paid the electricity bill!" my mother quipped. The long-distance lover laughed before walking straight into a glass door. DOOF! I cringed so deeply that my eyes squeezed shut.

I'm convinced awkwardness as a state of being expends more kinetic energy. (Have you ever met a fat nervous person?) That evening my body could have been used as an electrode to power not just the house but the whole street ... maybe even the entire grid.

My brother and his friend were also in attendance. Even in darkness I could sense the mischievous grins spread across their faces.

My brother's pal was deriving particular pleasure from seeing me pace from room to room babbling about The Book of Kells and the Guinness Storehouse.

"Sit down, sure," he said to the long-distance lover while shining the torch from his phone on his face, interrogation-style. "This is what we do to new people," he continued. "We turn off all the power and get them to tell us a story."

Numb

Ordinarily I would pretend to read texts on my phone during situations like this, only the battery had long gone. Besides, my fingers had become numb and my vision was probably blurred.

I couldn't even boil the kettle. I wonder if the Irish thirst for tea is as much about assuaging our social anxiety as it is about tickling our taste buds.

Mercifully the two rascals left soon afterwards and the long-distance lover and I were at last alone. Dinner plans were scuppered so we ate Burger Bites and Chickatees while watching the flickering candles with an intensity that would suggest they were flat-screen TVs.

"So, how was your flight?" I asked him.

"You already asked me that."

"Oh."

Silence ensued. I could cope without my laptop and Smartphone. It was the background hum I was missing - the sounds of music and cooking and activity.

"Cup of tea?" I asked. "Oh... sorry."

Eventually a real conversation unfolded, but not before he evangelised about his new smartphone. He enthuses about it so much that I once considered the possibility of him being a stealth marketeer. It takes underwater photos too, he told me for the 14th time.

Technology has become the third wheel in our romantic relationships. Just like the late Princess Diana, we all have three people in our relationships now: you, me and Siri.

Countless reports indicate that technology is impairing intimacy. One study found that almost 75 per cent of women feel that smartphones interfere with their romantic relationships by reducing the amount of time they spend with their partner.

Another study found that nearly 20 per cent of young adults (18-34) in the US use their smartphones during sex. Think about that one. Really think about it.

We've all been in restaurants where we've seen couples engaged in intimate exchanges with their respective smartphones. It's the dead, lobotomised stare into nowhere that I find most disturbing.

Scientists call this phenomenon "technoference". My mother's generation simply calls it bad manners.

Digital natives and tech advocates argue that the internet has improved communication and connection. They forget that we've sacrificed two of the most powerful forms of communication in the process: touch and gaze.

I'm not talking about using an iPad here. I'm talking about holding hands and staring into one another's eyes. There are simply no apps that can replace it.

trapped

Instead we are trapped in a feedback loop, in which our thoughts, feelings and ideas don't exist unless they are shared and validated online.

My weekend in the dark taught me some lessons. I realised that our brains have two different processing speeds: online and offline.

The online speed is fast and furious. The offline speed is more contemplative and meditative. Online is disengaged, offline is engaged. Is real intimacy possible in the online mode? I doubt it.

The power came back on just before midnight. The long-distance lover was disappointed, though. He's eager to do the tech detox all over again. Maybe even during a camping trip.

At least that's what I think he said. I can't be sure because I was mindlessly scrolling through asos.com at the time ...

We all have three people in our

romantic relationships now: you, me and Siri

L

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