This year, I have been traveling a lot for work.
I have grown used to asking for a table for one. And ordering ice-cream for one.
I have known my partner since we were 13-year-olds in Secondary School.
When we were awkward pubescent teenage friends, much of our communication took place via text messages on my old Nokia 8250. Back then (although I’m not *that* old), my Nokia could only store a limited number of text messages (was it 12? 18?) before the envelope icon would flash on the top of the screen, indicating a full inbox.
I always had an extremely difficult time choosing which texts to delete because they were all precious to me – I saved one because it was the latest time he had ever sent me a text (I think it was past 0400hrs, and text messages on that phone showed the hour:minute:second at which texts were sent); I saved another because it was a birthday wish from him from over a year ago; I saved yet another one because there was a smiley emoticon in the text – ‘=)’ to be exact – which was an extremely rare display of paralingual affect from him.
I went through three to four different Nokia mobiles between Secondary School and Junior College, refusing to trade in, resell, or donate my older mobiles because I was extremely attached to the text messages I had stored. In fact, I still have all these old mobiles stored individually in ziplock bags, kept in a metal tin box (that I had bought from Ikea for its ‘vintage’ feel when I was a teen) in my parents’ home. (To my sister: If you are reading this, please don’t raid my room and blackmail me. Love you).
In University, I started traveling several times a year for orchestra/symphonic band training, tours, and competitions. He also began his mandatory conscription in the military, and international text messages became even more rare and precious. Every time I arrived in a new city, I would be on a quick hunt for international calling cards and public payphones so we could sneak in a conversation or two during my travels. Once, he was away in the jungle for almost two weeks without mobile reception (over his 21st birthday, no less!), and I thought I was going to die from communication depravation – such is young love?
Later on, when he moved to Perth for University (and subsequently for work), I almost immediately abandoned my LG and acquired an iPhone after hearing about this magical, free, Wi-Fi based messaging app that we could use during our LDR (it was WhatsApp). This was amazing. I no longer had to conscientiously curate the texts I wanted to archive – technology allowed me to archive just about every thing.
We would always send each other pictures of our food during meal times – not only were these regular intervals throughout the day during which we could ‘check in’ with each other, it was also probably the only time of the day we could find respite from school/work to textchat for a few minutes.
There were also nights during which one of us fell asleep with Skype running in the background, while the other was staying up to finish work (we have also only ever attempted FaceTime once before deciding it was a fail because I don’t have an Apple ID!).
I helped my partner set up a Twitter account, wrote his first ‘hello world’ tweet, but he never opened the app ever again. Viber was never really stable unless we had rock solid Wi-Fi, and mutters of half-words and half-sentences were frustrating. We used Emojli for three days and gave up (I’m sad this network has since discontinued!). Facebook’s Messenger was great for sharing videos, articles, and assorted links, although these excluded urgent messages because I refuse to install Messenger on my phone and only check my feed on my laptop in the evenings. I guess we have settled for WhatsApp on a daily basis, and Skype as a rare treat when our schedules co-ordinate.
This doesn’t always work, though. Wi-Fi hunting is serious business – many cafes only have a 30 to 60-minute free Wi-Fi window for paying customers (I drink a lot of hot chocolate every where), and some times technological infrastructure would just fail to come through (dear impenetrable walls of Keble College, I’m staring at you!).
When I began grad school, travels became further and longer. If I scroll endlessly up my Skype chat log, we could probably document the pattern in which each of us took turns to wake up at/stay up till an awkward hour in order to schedule a face-to-face conversation. I often fall asleep with my mobile near me (pls don’t send me cancer-scare stories thx) after a final ‘goodnight’ greeting and wake up to a ‘good morning’ message.
Just as WhatsApp and Skype are affective technologies for my partner and I, my iPhone and Macbook are affective devices through which we reach each other while being physically apart. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I get cranky when others use my laptop and play on my mobile without first asking (my five darling nieces, pls stahp).
My partner is reachable on my mobile. My mobile is in my pocket. To me it always feels like my partner is in my pocket and we are never really far apart.
So while I go about my day asking for tables for one and ordering ice-cream for one, my devices allow me to feel as if we are two, and he gets to vicariously consume my ice-cream… sort of.
Last night, I got to refuel over 4:13:27 of digital co-presence, which is some kind of magic.
Thank you, Skype and WhatsApp, for enabling affect across distance. Just please don’t sell my data thanks.
Check out other LDR affective technologies here:
Do you know of any other affective technologies for LDRs? Beep me below!