Dating : Searching for Solitude in the age of Endless Notifications

h2>Dating : Searching for Solitude in the age of Endless Notifications

James Reagan
Somehow, I don’t think this kayaker would get very good data reception on her boat. Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

I sometimes think about throwing my phone away.

Not in a serious manner, of course. It’s more like a joking thought of “what if?” and then moving on to thinking about something else. Given that a phone is basically a vital component for 21st century living, I can’t realistically consider living without it. For me to do so, would make my life extremely complicated and it would take away lines of communication with friends and family.

I guess people could say that I’m just making excuses and that if push came to shove, it wouldn’t literally kill me to live without a smartphone. I guess that’s fair, but it’s really difficult to be someone who goes against the grain and decides to do something differently from everyone else. The fact is that we live in a world where we are so accustomed to ease and convenience that it feels frightening to try to intentionally do something that doesn’t result in instant satisfaction.

One of the most addictive parts of a smartphone is the notifications. The ping announcing that you have a new message on your social media app of choice, functions just like a hit of dopamine. That message hints at possibility and excitement. It could be bad or it could be good. You won’t know till you check. That’s why I think so many people either have their phone readily viewable on the table or they instantly reach for their pockets the second the notification goes off.

On my iPhone, I have a total of 38 apps that can send me notifications. This is including standard apps that came with the phone (i.e., Find iPhone, Home), so obviously those apps are ones I rarely hear from. My focus is more on the 21 apps that I’ve downloaded from Apple’s app store. 18 of these 21 apps have the option to send notifications (the exceptions are Amazon Music, Bleacher Report and CBS Sports). Out of these 18, I’ve only got seven that I currently have notifications on for.

The reason for this is because I feel like if you have notifications active for all your apps, you run the risk of getting them all day. Facebook and Instagram are two such apps that I turned off because they will ping you for something as little as a friend liking your photo or to give you a random friend suggestion. Social media apps and dating apps in particular are infamous for sending in “breadcrumb” messages to try to get you to stop what you’re doing and get on the app right now.

Example: dating apps like Tinder will say, “Tinder is on fire in your rea! Chances of a match are 3X higher right now.” I might have missed an emoji here or there, but that’s the basic gist of the message. And it’s one that I find maddeningly frustrating. Nothing at all happened, the app is just trying to get you to drop what you’re doing and sign onto it right at this very moment.

Something else I’ve realized while evaluating my phone usage is that most of my phone notifications come from social media apps. A lot of them are conversations I’m having with other people and that’s great, because it’s a way to facilitate connections and get closer to other people. At least, that’s what I try to tell myself.

It’s a complicated thing to know how much online messaging is good and healthy for one person. I don’t buy that it helps you to practice for real life conversation. Online messaging allows you to respond whenever and however you want, just by writing something down that you don’t even have to say to someone else’s face. Real life conversation forces you to look at the other person and to consider the body language of both yourself and the other person. Obviously, a video chat or a phone chat would be closer to real life conversation, but even with those options, you’re not in the same room as the other person, so it’s not exactly the same.

I find myself going through drastic changes with how much phone messaging time I do. There have been days where I get onto social media apps and start messaging and it becomes a constant conversation that goes on for hours on end. This was particularly true in China where I met a lot of people and some of them were keen on having long and detailed conversations on WeChat. Then there’s the other extreme, where I have days where I only give short answers every couple hours and mostly go about my daily business without constantly messaging other people.

Should I feel guilty for having days where I don’t want to chat as much? I really don’t think so. For one thing, it can sometimes be very hard to work and chat at the same time. This is something I learned the hard way at my last job in China. There were some days there where I’d barely have any classes and so I’d instead be responsible for using my free office hours to prepare for upcoming lessons. And too often, I’d instead goof off on my phone and message lots of people, sometimes to the point where I’d end up doing almost zero preparation for an upcoming class. I think if I’m busy doing some important work, I’m well within my rights to send less messages and focus instead on the task at hand.

This is an all too common sight on subways in China. Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

For me, a lot of it comes down to the connection that I have with the person that’s messaging me. Not to brag, but I’ve had a pretty high number of dating matches in recent months and that has led to an increase in my social media conversations. It’s nice, but some ways I think it’s odd. I’m very much single and at the moment, I don’t believe that there’s any female that I need to check-in with on a daily basis. In fact, I think it may even be a warning sign if a girl did that to me right away. It’s nice to talk and spend time with someone you’re romantically interested in, but if it’s going to be tons of hours messaging every single day after you’ve only just met, I feel like it could become overkill and it could lead to one or both individuals losing interest.

I have absolutely no problem with infrequently messaging potential romantic interests. I realize that many people feel different from me, but I’m not going to be apologetic for my views on this issue. When you’re first trying to date someone, the focus should be on trying to meet up and spending time together face-to-face. It gives you something to look forward to when you date like that. I’m not saying that you should never message your hot dates, it’s just it can be really good to keep the texting conversations short and focus mostly on the in-person conversations.

I would really encourage most people to consider exactly why it is that we want to use our phones so much. Like when you’re eating alone, why is there a reflex to pull out your phone and google something? Or why it is that a trip to a foreign country is not complete unless you upload a photo album on Instagram and get over 100 likes?*

*I’m not familiar with the acceptable number of Instagram likes. I’m personally fine with having 10 likes on a Facebook post or an Instagram pic, but maybe my numbers are really low, and most other people would consider those numbers as being peasant numbers*

Solitude gets too much of a bad rap, in my opinion. Too many people are scared of being alone and as a result, they got to reach for their phones and use that as a way to make a connection with other people. That would be something that’s very true for me too and yet, I don’t know why being alone has to always be considered a bad thing. Time alone can give you time to think and time to consider what kind of person you want to be. It can be very beneficial to people even if it does sometimes lead to feeling of inadequacy and loneliness.

Something that I’ve started trying when I go to another country is to not always buy a SIM card for my phone. This severely restricts my phone usage, as it limits me to only being able to use my phone in places with open WiFi or in businesses that provide the WiFi password. It’s a little bit freaky but also a little bit freeing. It’s freaky because I’m going to be in a position where I likely won’t see any incoming messages until hours after they arrive. And that can frustrate my brain, because it’s so used to receiving instant satisfaction. But it’s also freeing because I can put my phone in my pocket and try my best to focus entirely on being in the here and now.

In some countries, going SIM card-less may be a bad idea. Specifically, areas where lots of natives don’t speak English or in a scenario where you’re trying to meet up with a friend in an area that’s unlikely to have WiFi. It may not work for everyone, so it’s important to consider whether or not you’ll still feel safe if you decide not to buy a SIM card.

I didn’t get a SIM card when I visited Saigon back in January. So, this in not a scenic picture of Annam Gourmet Market’s parking lot, but rather a cry for help for someone to help me get un-lost. Vietnam is a country where you’re probably better off buying a SIM card.

Despite living in a world where you have instant notifications and constant distractions that could potentially give you a dopamine hit, I think it’s still important to make time to search for solitude. So, if I’m ever not responding to your messages, I hope you understand that it’s not personal. Sometimes, I just need to have some quiet time to think and to not have to deal with constant pings. I think author Jean-Paul Sartre put it best when he said, “if you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”

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