Somewhere in the middle of the West Javanese expanse, there was a group of high school students in a Christian youth camp. On the second day of the camp, everyone was asked to confess one of his or her deepest regrets. A girl revealed about her conflict with her mother. Another girl talked about her uneasy relationship with her once best friend. In the middle of it all, a boy stood up and mentioned his share – an answer that seemed dismissible compared to his peers who had shared parts of their hearts. “I’m sorry that I often leave people’s texts on read,” he quavered. In the summer of 2016, I fell in love with this boy.
His name is Jamie, the spectacled school kid with a weird sense of humor who managed to get the role of the antagonist in this play I helmed. In between a day’s rehearsal for that highly ambitious summer project, we found ourselves talking to each other for four hours. We discovered that we are both politically conscious and we shared the same interests. It was like an epiphany; I felt like he is the most comfortable person to talk to. I felt free and I felt alive. We continued to share our thoughts, dreams, and ambitions throughout the summer. Before I left to pursue my studies in the United States, I told him that I have feelings for him. He did not. He admired me, but he viewed me only as a friend and a mentor.
Since I have to leave for college in the United States, there is no way to contact him without using the means of technology. Phone bills would be really expensive to call through such a long distance and I won’t have enough time to do Skype calls. The easiest manner to recreate our conversations is through text. Not only can I talk to him through text without the constraints of space and time, but I thought that I will have less anxiety through the feature of read receipts which shows if the person we are texting has read the text or not. Turns out that this feature has induced more emotional stress than what I expected.
I continued to text Jamie and tried to recreate those deep, meaningful conversations via text messaging. I had a hard time doing that, not only because of the time difference between the United States and Indonesia but also because of the fact that he is a bad texter. Sometimes he would leave my messages on read and would come up with a reply hours or days afterward, or even he would forget about it. People would talk about the anxiety of waiting for their crush to text them back; thanks to Jamie, I could probably get a Ph.D. in waiting and anxiety.
Through those attempts of reconnection, I realize that our lives have been engrained into text culture so much that we define people based on how they reply texts. The feature of read receipts leads us to make preconceived judgments on one’s attitude towards us based on text replies since it is an unwritten rule to always reply someone and not leave a text on read. Our mutual friends have vented to me on how Jamie won’t reply to their texts, to the extent that they would ignore him in real life conversations to make Jamie “pay for his actions”. They thought, concluding from his texting attitudes, that Jamie is an ignorant person. Jamie has texted me multiple variations of the statement “sorry I left you on read”, but I won’t blame him for that. This whole texting culture is somewhat like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, where people who can adapt better to the changing technologies are the ones with a better social standing. Jamie is one of Darwin’s short-necked giraffes – he could not seem to keep up with all the fast changes in technology. I admit, even though I might not be using my phone as much as my other friends, I am slowly and surely turning into that part of society who inflicts stereotypes based on someone’s texting habits, including judging Jamie as a part of it. Moreover, my attachment to him does not help at all.
Another thing that made me change my opinions on texting is the fact that a user’s contacts are ever-present through text. In real life, we have to actually meet the person to initiate a conversation. Through text, we can initiate a conversation anytime we want. In real life interactions, we can put these conversations into context by starting off with small talk. At least in my culture, text conversations are contextualized from the first line of a message; it might be a question about homework, a call to hang out on Sunday night, or even to talk about other people. Yet, these messages stem from real life situations, whereas I don’t have a real life situation with Jamie anymore since we are an ocean apart.
Since I was a really desperate woman looking for love, I try to recreate our conversations through text and I would contextualize every message by sending him links I thought he would like, hoping that those links would trigger a long, deep conversation. Sometimes it would work effectively, like that time when I sent him an article about the lack of Asian representation in Broadway musical productions, and we would proceed to a long discussion on the issue. Yet, most of the time, the method doesn’t work. A few days ago I read an essay by a British-Pakistani actor about the recent Muslim ban and thought that it would be nice for him to read it as well. I sent it to him, and he ignored it. When I talked to him in real life, it was never this way. We would talk about anything and everything that drifted in our mind, regardless of the presence of an Internet resource as a trigger to the conversation. A Skype call would suffice to imitate real life conversations when you’re separated from someone; I have thought of having Skype call sessions with him, but since he is a bad texter, he didn’t respond to my texts asking him to do so.
Eventually, after strings of useless messages, hours to come up with conversation subjects, and real life experiences exploring the Northwest coast, I stopped trying. I stopped because I know that I would never relive those conversations ever again. Through these interactions, I felt like it’s really hard to make human connections and to have deep, meaningful conversations through text messaging. No matter how hard I keep on trying, the feeling won’t be the same as our little post-rehearsal discussions where I felt really comfortable talking to him. If Jamie’s a good texter, my anxiety would not be as prominent as what I currently experience, and my life will probably be so much easier. Well, that is my egotistical, “texting culture” wired brain speaking. I know that he has a life, and he’s not as good a texter as most people. Yet, even though I gave up, I still have feelings for him – deeply. I guess I just have to rely on luck.
Just this morning, I checked my phone and I was perplexed to find that I had received ten unread messages from Jamie. I did not text him prior to that. I was really surprised; why would he text me ten messages, when he would usually reply with two? I opened my text-messaging app and scrolled up to find an array of pictures and words. Turns out he just watched a turban-tying tutorial on YouTube and sent me five selfies of him wearing different turbans. He was really enjoying it and thought that I might be interested to take a look. Well, luck is on my side today. But will it be on my side in the future?
This piece of writing is originally submitted as a memoir assignment for my English 101 class; I’m posting it here because I think I did a really great job and this post will be a starting point in diversifying my blog! I’m not tired of writing film reviews, but I really want to do new things. So if anyone from that English class is reading this right now, congratulations, you have found my blog, and you are welcome to read pieces of my thoughts! If you’re “Jamie” and you’ve found your way here, um… boy you playin’…. but read my reviews while you’re here 🙂
Also, sorry for the less-than-aesthetic header photo, I thought that meme’s fitting and funny…… stop cyber bullying