Five Reasons Smart Phones & Texting Killed High School Romance: An 80s Perspective
By C.R. Bruce (@crbrucewrites.com)
In honor of my upcoming 80s-themed novel, “Stalled,” here is a fun look back at teenage dating in the 1980s.
Dating is a ritual, full of traditions and tribulations. Every decade had its pros and cons, and maybe an argument can be made for the 50s, 60s, or 70s, but I wasn’t there. I grew up in the 80s. That’s my yard stick. Maybe I’m romanticising my own decade, but I think we were lucky. My girlfriend’s oldest son will be dating soon. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for him, but he’ll own one: a cell phone, or worse, a smart phone. Diabolical machinery. We didn’t have smarty phones in the 80s, or the ubiquitous social media network they’re connected with. Here are five reasons why the 80s were great and how smart phones ruined it:
1. WE WERE WRITERS & ARTISTS: Where are the love letters today? The kind written on real paper? With pen, pencil, or marker, the 80s teen crafted beautiful works of correspondence, aka notes. If a girl wrote the note, it was S.W.A.K - sealed with a kiss. She'd plaster on the lipstick and leave her DNA imprint. Then, she'd sneak it to you in class, braving discovery, confiscation, and humiliation. Handmade, handwritten, and from the heart, 80s notes were scrapbook-worthy. The whole creative, clandestine process was, in retrospect, romantic. That was the 80s. Today? Text or email. Handwritten notes are the equivalent of essays to today's attention-deficit youth. Why put your hand through the torture of making complex patterns on paper when a few taps, clicks, and short-hand acronyms will do? You get texts about work, weather, time, traffic, food, whatever, everything and anything—mundane stuff. How special is that? Umm, thanks for typing for five seconds? Something as important as hooking up should be planned, and re-planned, written, and re-written. Notes gave 80s teens time to think, consider, and weigh their words. It's dangerous to be reckless with your teenage heart! Unfortunately, smart phones gave teens the tools to act impulsively on any whim, dream, or desire. This has led to some embarrassing situations. Ever heard of sexting mistakes? Not an 80s problem. Notes win.
2. WE WERE NINJAS: Guess what we could do in the 80s? Hide. We could tell our parents we're going to the movies, but instead drive into the hills to make out. We could concoct lies amongst our friends, creating perfect BS alibis impervious to interrogation. Today's teens can't get away with this stuff. Why? Because they have smart phones. Smart phones can be tracked; GPS technology. Parents know exactly where their horny, lying teenagers are hiding. This is why teens receive that cool, expensive smart phone on their 13th birthdays. It's not for you, moron, it's for them. The irony is that they actually asked for the phone. 80s teens knew how to disappear.
3. WE WERE COMMUNICATORS: I remember talking on the phone with friends for hours every night. Two friends, three friends, four—whatever was necessary. And it WAS necessary. Teenage business is serious stuff. Back in the 80s, if you couldn't speak in person, you had one option: telephone (as in dialing and then speaking, not texting). And who controlled the phone? Parents. Hearing "Get off the phone!" was a nightly ritual for teens. Or worse, your mother picked up another phone and eavesdropped. Okay, that sucked. But that was the 80s. We talked and talked, and sometimes got caught (more on that later). Teens today can text under the covers all night if they’re sneaky, hours and hours of messaging. Why is that bad? Because when you text lol you’re not actually laughing. Texting is to communication like fast food is to nutrition. It’s verbal communication without non-verbal cues. For example, say you get the following text from your girlfriend, Where are you? That could mean, I’m worried, please check in. Or, You’re late. Hurry up. Or, ARE YOU CHEATING ON ME, ASSHOLE? You have to figure out her intent because you don’t have any non-verbal cues. You could text back, I’m sorry, babe. Everything’s fine. Or, On my way, be right there. Or, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, NAG. The whole frickin’ relationship could depend on that simple text! How many relationships have blown up because a ‘joke’ text didn’t come across as funny, or he/she thought you were texting mad when you weren’t, or you texted the wrong person by accident? Yikes. This, dear readers, is a lament to the lost art of the phone conversation. 80s teens didn’t know it, but we were protected from relationship-killing texting goofs. And 80s teens didn’t like it, but we were forced to learn how to communicate on those archaic rotary phones. With a parental time limit hanging over our heads, we made every word count. We could spew out some real romantic BS when we wanted. So, here’s the breakdown of ideal communication methods. Gold: Face-to-face. Silver: Telephone conversation. Bronze: Yelling out the window. Runner-up: Texting. Side note: Recently, we’ve seen the rise of Apple’s FaceTime, which is essentially video conferencing on your smart phone. I’m reserving judgement because texting is still easier and doesn’t require you to look good (are looks important to teens? Duh). But maybe FaceTime will usher in the new age of teen romance. Or maybe it’s another technological avenue where things can go terribly wrong? See below.
4. WE WEREN’T GLOBAL: Earlier, I mentioned parents eavesdropping on phone conversations in the 80s. That was bad. But let’s compare. Did 80s teens with their hand-written notes, real-person telephone calls, and lack of cell phones have less privacy than today’s teenagers? Two words: Social Media. Let’s accept the premise that teenagers (of any decade) aren’t great at seeing the long-term consequences of their actions. Smart phones are full of ill-advised texts and photos, historical records of teenage shenanigans. Now let’s add a Facebook account, or YouTube; put that stuff on the ‘Net. Bam. What can happen? Humiliation, suspension, lawsuit—you name it. You screw up on social media and not only do your parents and friends know, but everyone in your class > school > city > country > world knows. Ugh. It makes the 80s teen cringe. The stakes are too high. No second chances. No take-backs. The adolescent brain is not equipped. Modern teens, you have the 80s teen’s sympathy.
5. WE WERE LOYAL: Who remembers the phrase, “Will you go with me?” It was the 80s equivalent of “let’s go steady.” It was the big question, face-to-face. You had to have guts! Rejection was a real possibility, but it was the only way to formalize your love. Teen relationships in the 80s were like little marriages. Once you made that pact it was not easily broken. And if you broke it, you had to do it face-to-face, write a kick-ass note, or chicken out and have a friend do it for you. It was high drama any way you sliced it. How do teens hook up and break up today? Text. No biggy. They live in a Vegas world of instant marriage and divorce. A friend of mine told me that, according to his teen, asking someone out in person is considered poor form because you put the other person in an uncomfortable position. Say what? I smell a cop-out; texting is easier on both the rejected and the rejector. Modern teens have formed a texting alliance, a conspiracy to eliminate any relationship anxiety. Bodes well for their future. Not. Is it just me and my biased memory, or did 80s high school relationships have a certain stylized flare that oozed epic romance? Look at John Hughes’ library of 80s films, best of the HS genre, in my opinion: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. What’s the modern-day equivalent? High School Musical? Twilight? Nice try. Anyway, that’s relationships, what about general plans with your pals? In the 80s, when you and your friends decided to do something you were committed! You couldn’t change your mind last minute and text, Sorry – can’t make it. Have fun, yolo. Break plans enough times in the 80s and you wouldn’t have any friends. 80s teens could stick to it, stick with it, and stay the course.
In conclusion, here’s my advice to the modern teen. Say no to smart phones, seriously. Have a basic cell phone for emergency calls, no texting, and leave the Star Trek version at the store, at least while you’re in high school. Buy a smart phone as a graduation present, or on your 18th birthday. This is the best advice you’ll ever get from a child of the 80s.
If you loved or hated the 80s, or would like to add to this list, feel free to comment here, Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. But not you, teens. You shouldn’t be on social media.
- C.R. Bruce
C.R. Bruce’s first novel, “Stalled,” is slated for release in late March, 2015. You can follow his progress to publication at www.crbrucewrites.com
© Christopher R. Bruce
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