The XX Factor

Communicating Despite Technology

Can this marriage be saved? Yes, it can-through letters. Check out yesterday’s Op Ed in the Times by a military wife facing marital strains, who turned to an old-fashioned remedy. The life of military spouses certainly is anomalous (I also recommend Double X ’s own “Threeway,” a conversation among three military wives who have written books), but I wonder if there’s something for all of us in Melissa Seligman’s surprising account of “learning to communicate despite technology.”

As a new wife struggling to build a new family with her husband sent off on serial deployments, she found herself dreading the real-time connectivity that can make Afghanistan seem not so far away. When the instant message buzzed, summoning her to the webcam to commune, she had to be on, however she was really feeling. Her toddler, moments earlier clamoring for daddy, would clam up at the sight of his face. Lousy reception, sudden loss of reception … Marital bonds grew as tenuous as satellite signals.

Synchronicity, instant connectivity, the illusion of non-separation: These days, technology offers a triumph over distance and time, a promise of readier intimacy. Yet those powers can also spell, as it seems to me we do well to be reminded, the opposite: How easy it is to feel trapped by the pressure to be constantly, immediately reactive; chasms can open within and between us; time tyrannizes. “And then we found salvation in letters.” Seligman discovered liberation in the chance to be expressive, on her own terms. She began writing her husband letters. Her predicament isn’t anything like most of ours, but as we text, and blog, and tweet, is there a lesson in it?