Ubering While Listening to Joni Mitchell: Absurd(ist) Intersections Between Technology and Love
by Bibi Deitz
I am in bed with a man. He has to go home. He is not staying the night. So he pulls out his iPhone and orders an Uber. It is ten o’clock. Joni Mitchell croons in the corner from my Macbook Air. Ubering while listening to Joni Mitchell, he says. Probably not what she had in mind.
The incongruity of I-want-you-here and I-have-to-answer-this-email.
Huddled in thick blankets before bed in this November city chill, we lie in bed squinting at blue screens, reading the news. We play Tinder at three-course prix fixes. We dash off sexts during business lunches, fire off angry emails to ex-lovers in the middle of conference calls. We Skype while walking up Fifth on our lunch breaks, staring at our best friends in London or Amsterdam or Cape Town instead of taking in the scant urban foliage of fall.
At one time, there was a separation between technology and life. Like church and state. I believe in this. But, like prayer in the schools, meat and dairy, business and pleasure—it’s hard to keep from muddling the boundaries.
Toward the end of my last relationship, in the middle of the night, I would get up and scroll Craigslist for apartments, my face shining ultramarine in the late-night glow, my boyfriend snoring beside me.
This shouldn’t be possible. To contact a would-be roommate, I should have to pick up a phone, or at least a pen. To look for a new apartment should involve the tacky feel of newspaper in my hands in the morning, a cup of coffee and a highlighter on the table.
If not romance, if not truth or reality or authenticity or any litany of earnest and valiant aspirations of everyday life, there is a deep sense of convenience about all of this. I can screenshot a troubling text conversation I’m having and fling it to a friend in real time. I can compose email, keep track of how many flights of stairs I took and have a look at some distant cousin’s wedding photos—all in a thirty minute subway commute.
I would prefer not to do so, though I can’t say that I don’t. I do try to resist the urge. I don’t have Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. I send and receive texts and emails from my rather sleek gold iPhone, and that feels like enough. Even with its limited (by me) abilities, my phone feels distracting. I like to look at it. I like the jolt of dopamine that comes with an incoming text as though it were a tiny hit of cocaine.
I do not, however, like when my phone rings.
How many sexts have you sent? I ask my friend. Today, or in general? she says.
Romance ≠ contemporary technology.
After 24 hours holed up with this man in his apartment in East Williamsburg, I prepare to emerge, stumbling and blinking onto the street with a real case of sex hair. But first: my days-old iPhone has no music. I cannot abide the G train in silence. After a solid day of decadence, of cantaloupe and prosciutto in bed and sex in the shower, I need a soundtrack.
So I plug the phone into his laptop. But I am an accidental Luddite. I can’t figure out to add tracks or albums piecemeal. Inner dialogue: Fuck it. YOLO. I click the “sync” button. This seems to work. I upload some of his music onto my phone. I walk to the L train bumping Aphex Twin. This makes me feel connected to my early-twenties self and also weirdly connected to this new lover. Ostensibly win-win.
It is not win-win. A few hours later, a text: “Ha, you transferred two static-filled voice memos to my iTunes.”
My heart halts. I have a vague, urgent memory of recording an epic argument with my ex in my voice memos as note-to-self of sorts. I picture this new guy casually opening his “recently added” iTunes folder and kicking back to hear my ex and I tell each other how awful we find each other.
Upon further investigation, I find five voice memos on my phone. In addition to the quarrel, there is also: a) one (1) failed attempt at recording a J Dilla tribute hour from Mister Cee on Hot 97; b) thirteen (13) minutes of dictation for a short story; and c) the two (2) above-mentioned staticky recordings. The latter four are kind of embarrassing, but I can live them down. The first one, though.
Through some unintelligible twist of fate—perhaps I paid my karmic technological dues in some other life—only two voice memos uploaded to his laptop. They were, indeed, both static-filled, recordings of a flock of yellow-rumped warblers at the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn from the weekend before. It really was just the two. Somehow, inexplicably, the other three stayed nestled in the catacombs of my iPhone. No dictation, no J Dilla and certainly not a row.
Luddism ≠ 2014.
A very analogue interlude: Five hours of listening to records on the couch. We lie side by side. We clutch our iPhones. We hope for the best.
A word on Tinder: I have never had my own Tinder profile. This is not so much out of preference as much as out of necessity. When I was open to that kind of thing, I could not participate in the game of Tinder because I had an iPhone 4, and not enough space/courage to upgrade to the latest operating system. Tinder was only compatible with that iOS. I also do not have a Facebook account. For these reasons, my Tinder membership was not up for discussion.
I have, however, held my own OkCupid account.
And I have played Tinder. On the stoop of my friend’s Park Slope apartment, smoking disgusting Newports with three girlfriends, we passed around Tinder as though it were a parlor game. Swipe left, left, left, left. Okay, right. I guess. No, left. Left, left, left, left—oooh, right!
Tinder might be the official demise of romance.
Heralding its arrival to the world of dating: two dead cherubs.
I have a friend who started dating a lovely Aussie via Tinder recently. Things between them are going really well. You could say—as I did, to her—that the Tinder gods are swiping right on them. You could say—as she did, to me—that the Tinder gods are sometimes Old Testament, sometimes New. We laughed about this. Or I laughed—I LOL’d—in the high-ceilinged space of my little room in Brooklyn. I can’t vouch for her actual laughter, only a small collection of hahas and lols on my phone screen. She could’ve been stone-faced.
We’re in his bedroom, sounds of one a.m. East Williamsburg thick through the window, ajar. We’re having sex to The Game, which is a ridiculous activity in and of itself, when a phone call comes in, auto-pausing the music to focus fully on the ringtone for thirty seconds. I don’t know whether to laugh or what. I do know that I just completely lost my focus.
I’m at a warehouse party in Gowanus. It is Halloween. A deranged cowboy sidles over, asks me what I am. I’m not dressed up, I tell him. According to him, he’s a sheriff. Okay, whatever. He shimmies next to me. I shimmy-sidle away. It is two a.m. From my back pocket, vibration. This guy, this new guy: at a rave somewhere in northernmost Brooklyn. The sheriff/cowboy: shimmy-shimmying. The text: “May have just seen Teju Cole.”
If romance is dead and Tinder killed it, it did so at the speed of sext.
I’m on top. I have to send a text. My phone, of course, is at arm’s length. So I reach for it. I do not pull out. That’s hot, says the man who is inside me.
Or just the countless times I’ve pulled out a phone and sent a text, my lover right beside me. Sunday morning light, Times in bed, bagels and lox and iPhone Sixes.
The text I send whilst on top: To reschedule a work brunch circa one hour from now with a friend. Because of the sex I am having circa now.
Two words: misplaced sexts.
Late. One a.m., Santa Fe. So, what, three in New York. Back when I still had Facebook: I’m scrolling the news feed. Refresh, refresh. Refresh. And then, reward: This woman from whom I nearly rented a room a couple of summers ago is posting naked selfies. She patently cannot mean to do so, but there they are all the same. They are not well-lit. They are not flattering. By morning, they are gone. I wonder: To whom did she mean to send these snapshots? And how, pray tell, did the wires cross? How did her phone decide that the place to upload these photographs was not another human being’s personal communication device but instead the public domain.
The swath of possible pitfalls when it comes to technological blunders: Vast. All the more acute in the arena of romance. More is at stake. In the Venn diagram of technology and twenty-first century love, there is a black spot à la Treasure Island smack in the middle that is comprised of countless ways that things can go utterly, horribly, catastrophically wrong.
I transact sexts from a Japanese restaurant in Park Slope. Jessica Simpson croons “Santa Baby” from tinny speakers. It is early November.
Theme song: “_______.” Whatever plays next on a curated iTunes playlist. Turned loud, because there are roommates.
About the Author:
Bibi Deitz lives and writes in Brooklyn. Recent work has appeared in Bookforum, The Rumpus and BOMB.