Why Texting Is the Future of Love

Bloggers say they'll take their generation's dating rules over the old ones any day

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David Brooks, the New York Times columnist with a flair for broad-brush social criticism, is concerned about youth romance. What really bothers him is text messaging has turned what used to be "courtship... governed by a set of guardrails ... to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment" to something approaching a stock market game. "Texting," he writes, "and the utilitarian mind-set are naturally corrosive toward poetry and imagination."

Is Brooks right? Many of today's bloggers hail from this supposedly utilitarian generation, but they're not taking kindly to the suggestion that they've gone astray. Even some older bloggers are doubtful: In criticizing the current setup, is Brooks turning a blind eye to the dating problems of earlier generations?

  • Ezra Klein In Love  Ezra Klein takes the matter personally. Giving an account of his courtship with his current girlfriend--which included Facebook, texts, and instant messages--he reasonably declares that "It is not for David Brooks to tell me those IMs lack poetry, or romance." In fact:
Electronic mediums may look limited to him, but that is only because he has never seen his life change within them. Texting, he says, is naturally corrosive to imagination. But the failure of imagination here is on Brooks's part.
  • This Generation Bleeds, Too  In a discussion on this topic at Double X, Noreen Malone perhaps has the simplest point of all:
People get hurt in this "new" way of courting. Often. As they did in the "old" way, with all the rules. But don’t the hurt feelings just prove Brooks wrong--that we’re not, in fact, monsters of ironic detachment?
  • Brooks Points to 'Happy Days,' But That Was a Revolution, Too  Tim Carmody questions Brooks's attention to social history. "Cruis­ing, malt shops, high school dances, drive-in movies, every­thing you see in Amer­i­can Graf­fiti--it might feel like part of the time­less social rit­ual now, but then, it was a rev­o­lu­tion, a set of truly rad­i­cal acts." The days Brooks appears to be reminiscing about, Carnody argues at the blog Snarkmarket, were in fact a time when the young suddenly "had access to cars, tele­phones, TV, records and the radio, and dis­pos­able cash." Once birth control and a few other ingredients were added, he writes, one got "fem­i­nism, counter-culture, the sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion. But in some ways, this was a post­script. The most impor­tant changes, the sub­ter­ranean ones, had all hap­pened already."
  • An Anecdote from Brooks-Era Dating  Superblogger Matt Yglesias responds to Brooks by pulling an anecdote out of The Rules of Attraction, from when, as Yglesias calculates, "Brooks was 24 and there was no SMS or World Wide Web." The story is unromantic, to say the least, involving a girl losing her virginity in a drunken fiasco. "[C]learly,"he concludes, "there was more to social life in 1985 than this. But still, there it was. Or consider Mad Men’s depiction of dating and marriage--very different from a contemporary situation. But better?"
  • Dating is Always Dreadful--Look at Jane Austen  Emily Yoffe, a self-described "product of the 'simpler' '50s dating culture," adds that her parents courted very traditionally, and their marriage was awful. "Also," she writes, hedging and settling isn't new: "[O]ne doesn't have to do more than read Jane Austen to understand that it’s not the advent of SMS technology that make males and females circling each other strike poses, make harsh, comic judgments, and wish for someone more appealing."

But no one is as succinct as Malone's and Yoffe's Double X colleague, Jessica Dweck:  "I would just like to point out the irony that the conservative Brooks is railing against a hyper-free market in romantic partners."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.