Tag Archives: what’s app

Online communication: No substitute for the real thing

I remember about five years ago, I used to hang around with this guy. He was a neuroscientist who worked in the psychology faculty of Nottingham Trent University. One day he had some of his students doing an experiment and they hadn’t finished so he suggested I take a saunter around. That was when I saw the poster. It was offering an MA or MSc, I forget, in Cyberpsychology. It then occurred to me that our interaction with technology is changing the base of our psychological processes. I regret to say, by and large, it isn’t a positive change. I also notice that young people who have grown up with this technology have an entirely different thought process to anyone who didn’t grow up with this technology.

The ex-girlfriends

Last year, I was in an extremely abusive relationship with a girl. The bulk of our communication took place online. When we were together, I mean in each other’s company, it was really good, but then she’d go home and we just communicated online. I found it horrible, unbearable at times. It was impossible to have sound discussion with her. Don’t get me wrong, there were other factors, such as her schizophrenia, an unplanned pregnancy, my lifestyle at the time, etc etc that all contributed to the breakdown of the relationship but I noticed that none of those barriers could be overcome as there was a irretrievable breakdown of communication between us.

These problems prevented us from progressing the relationship. This is because relationships never run smoothly. Relationships are peppered with problems. The success or failure of any relationship doesn’t hinge on the what has gone right but more on the ability, or lack thereof, to deal with the problems.

The problems and traumatic situations that arose out of that relationship were best solved when we spent time together. Problems can’t be sorted out online because online communication is incoherent. We would periodically block each other on various social media platforms as a means of punishment. So rooted was our relationship in doing that I was frustrated that I couldn’t have a proper conversation and problems couldn’t be addressed (as an OCD sufferer I have to solve problems) that what would happen is that I would walk to where she lived (about seven miles from where I lived) and walk back, just for the sake of seeing her for fifteen minutes. It alleviated the stress, the anguish, the angst and the anxiety that communicating principally online brings about. A fifteen minute conversation in person had coherency, context, tone and sentiment.

Bizarrely, it mirrored the relationship previous to that one the year before. In that instance I was in a relationship with a girl who lived about 100 miles away in the Roman Spa town of Bath. All through the week we would speak to each other through a variety of social media platforms and conversations were disjointed and fractured. She would absolutely beg, or close to it, to phone me. Sometimes I simply wasn’t up to a phone conversation, but on reflection she garnered tone and a sense of calm from it, something which doesn’t come across in messages over web.

If we rewind to my last “serious” (though in hindsight I probably should have given it more gravity than I did) relationship before both of those, it was again, a long distance relationship. She lived in London and I lived in Nottingham. She would call me everyday, sometimes for upwards of an hour. I found it exhausting. Even though we spoke by telephone regularly, she would constantly relay her problems to me. It was frustrating knowing that I was miles away and in no position to help. It was crushing, emotionally.

The France Situation

I find myself in a situation at present that is not dissimilar but at the same time hugely different.


Me in France doing French people stuff.

I’m in another long distance relationship. This time it is with a French woman. Being the social creature that I am I have a new and emerging social circle in the city where I live. I don’t live there though, yet. I know my way around the city I live in and can successfully navigate Paris with some proficiency at street level. I was really enjoying France, not least because of the people I had around me. My partner, my friends, I wouldn’t go so far as to say my family, but my home life was good. My life is so good in fact that I’m thinking the next move may be a permanent one.

When I was over there, life was good, but some base in reality is always needed. I had to come back for work. As much as I missed all my friends in Plymouth, am missing people in France like crazy. The main form of communication that I use to communicate with people in France is what’s app. I notice, almost immediately that there is a disconnect there and I wonder about how changed and diverted things are from the essence of the relationship that was originally started given that now the relationship is principally a digital one.

The first example is with a friend. I’m not going to go into detail but one friend that I’ve spoken to since I got back, I said something to. There was an abundantly clear lack of context which led to a huge misunderstanding. Suffice to say that this misunderstanding would not have happened had we actually been face to face. When people communicate digitally, there is no context to what they are saying. It’s not that something can more easily be taken out of context, it is that it isn’t out into context in the first place.

The second example is a good one, and I can be a bit more specific here. One of, if not my closest friend in France, is also the person that speaks the best English. I try and speak French to her and she tells me to stop. Ironically, she has never been to England or an English speaking country. We can chat for hours. She was a real pillar to me in France. Now our messages don’t follow a linear path, there are always fractures and splinters. Think about it this way. She sends me a message which I pick up when I wake up, I respond. She picks that one up a bit later. Then I pick that one up when I’m about to start work, and so on. Can you imagine periodically returning to the same conversation, over the course of a busy day, every few hours and remain focused on the attention you’re supposed to give that person and your interaction? Of course not. It’s impossible. The conversation ends up fractured with no conclusion or end point, along with the lack of fluidity and the other things that one can take from a conversation either by phone or in person.

The third and final example is my partner. Aside from the obvious that one misses not being in her company, people often turn to their partners for support and reassurance. I am in another country, pondering a huge move to another country, and that really scares me. Sometimes I look too deeply into the messages she sends and when problems do arise, they are impossible to resolve and will be impossible to resolve until I return to France. There is also another thing. My partner doesn’t have the best command of the English language. My French isn’t perfect either, not by any stretch of the imagination. Our bodies have an unspoken communication with each other though. I’m not talking about anything sexual or even about body language. It’s really difficult to explain or describe. I think when two people don’t share a language fluency, they have to communicate in other ways. Say for instance when we are brushing our teeth before bed, we may be silent but more often than not there are a series of glances, small actions, I may reach for the mouthwash, she may turn off the tap I’ve left running and these things form a conversation. Sometimes when we’re doing something more, like playing pool or digging up vegatables on the farm, these small, almost insignificant actions make up a conversation. That’s why being away from her is unbearable. I suppose it is that that highlighted to me that while messages back and forth are ok, there really is no substitute for being together and in person.


Yes, Facebook does ruin relationships, but not in the way you might think, and I’d say the same of What’s App too.

I have an ex-girlfriend. I love her very deeply. She loves me very deeply. She has been my ex-girlfriend for almost nine months now. Following some misplaced values and poor communication around Christmas, we got into a cycle of breaking up and getting back together, which has led to some horrible game playing which has quite frankly, soured things. Both of our families and friends are exasperated by all of it. Now, if I’m meeting someone new I describe her as my ex-but-when-is-an-ex-really-an-ex-girlfriend and people tend to understand that reference.

Recently I fell on some hard times where I had no money and no roof over my head. Life is full of these stumbling blocks and thankfully I had friends that were able to help out, and they did, in some pretty huge ways. Although, and it begrudged me to contact her (the time that I contacted her before that was to tell her that if she didn’t stop, I’d get a restraining order, due to her behaviour on Facebook) I remembered that while my friends would bend over backwards to help me, they weren’t well resourced. She on the other hand had money and lived in a big(ish) house.

Such is the animosity between her parents and I that they would rather have seen me homeless, hungry and destitute on the streets no doubt savouring the moment and popping along with a digital camera to capture it for future enjoyment at a later date. It also took her a leap of faith to help me, which she did.

The breakdown of the relationship was spectacular. It started in the most intense and interpersonal of ways, and ended with slagging each other off on social media and to each other’s friends. It wasn’t just one break up, it was several.  Bear in mind that had the situation been the other way around, I would’ve helped her no questions asked, again, despite the ferocious nature of the break up. Of course, as a very social couple, the break up too was very social. One friend, upon hearing about this said that he thought that it was sad that a social circle descends into civil war and factionalism when a break up occurs.

When my ex-girlfriend heard about what was happening, she immediately offered to take me out for a vegan dinner, which I went along with. She wasn’t working very far from my friends so she came to pick me up. My friend, who, while he had witnessed the breakup, had never actually met the girl in question. He said how he had never seen a couple as much in love as we were. I saw her a couple of days afterwards and it was as if no time had passed at all. I was, and still am, completely in love with her. I then went to stay with another friend in the small South Devon town of Ivybridge.

I asked my ex-girlfriend if she wanted to come out and visit. She obliged. We spent the first half hour kissing and cuddling. Overcome with a sense of guilt, I suggested we go for a walk by the River Erme to some secluded beauty spots. No prizes for guessing what that entailed, twice.
The day was magical. Fresh air, the September sun shining walking along with the woman I love. Occasionally stopping to take it all in. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.


Cows blocking the path to the river. Meant we were all alone, just us.

A notable point is that my other friend, who has never met the first friend, said also that he had never seen a couple so much in love. He had briefly met my girlfriend, and we all went to school together but I wouldn’t say they knew each other well enough to say “Hi” in the street. I felt it odd that they made the same point. That very evening when me and my ex-girlfriend returned to his, peculiarly he went out, affording us some time alone which was put to good use cuddling in front of the television with some chip shop food.

I trust I’ve set the seen. A young couple, in love, basking with the sort of radiance that makes everyone else want to tear their hair out. So, what went wrong?

Things happened on both sides. I won’t be so harsh as to divulge hers, after all, she isn’t able to defend herself. On my part I went to another country with a female friend for a week and stayed with her family there. It seems obvious that I shouldn’t have done it now but miscommunication at the time and the fact that we were still intimate in the six months that followed led me to believe it was all ok. I’ll never understand how her family came to detest me so strongly, that is just there way I suppose. I can’t expect everyone to love me, but their hatred and derision of our love also led to some unsavoury behaviour on my part.

I do, however, think there was one more key thing that drove the relationship of these two people, that even apparent strangers could see how much they loved each other, to the point where it became painful and unworkable. To explain this I will need to go back some years.

Dating in the pre-Facebook era

Aah, the first one. Everyone remembers the first. The Eagle pub, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, 1999. The day of the Carnival. Number three, Skateboarding at the civic centre. Number Four, in a nightclub, Five through nine, at college. I could go on. I used to meet girls in normal places, we would exchange numbers. We would arrange to meet up. Phone calls were still (kind of) a luxury, and generally the whole house would share one telephone, and mobiles were still exhaustively expensive, though everyone had one. The only way to communicate effectively and at length with someone was in person. Face to face.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve/Day 2003/4. Number 24. A childhood friend and friend of the family. We’d been partying all night. We were taken with everything and stuff, just, y’know, happened. We were together for four and a half years. In that four and a half years (where I wasn’t on the pull) Facebook came out.

When the relationship came to an end, suddenly I was back on the dating scene and nobody met in the same ways anymore. I was flabbergasted. There were a few places where it was actually easier to pick up women. The newly established smoking areas in pubs (God bless the Public Health Act 2007) became a veritable gold mine of women. Generally though, nobody seemed to be meeting in person.

For me the chosen method of meeting a girl seemed to be meeting up and being together, in person. Everyone else was meeting on Plenty of Fish, chatting on Facebook or what’s app and I couldn’t get to grips with it. Fast forward to number 31. This is where I first noticed things beginning to change.

I met her on a dating website. She wasn’t beautiful. In fact she was… well… though I’m not naming names or showing photographs there is still no need to be unkind. We tried to meet up regularly. I had a dodgy feeling about the whole relationship though. There was evidently something going on that she wasn’t telling me about. I’d just had a newly acquired smartphone. On this smartphone, I’d installed what’s app. Suddenly, we’d spend every evening talking on what’s app and spent no time at all seeing each other. She would message me incessantly, yet she would never want to meet up. I couldn’t for the life of me understand it. Needless to say we didn’t end up seeing each other for very long.

Skip to number 33 who, ironically, I met in a smoking area. Facebook was how we first began to communicate. Then what’s app. We got together but we lived, I’m going to say 120 miles away. She lived in, I’m going to go with, Gloucester. Yeah, Gloucester, let’s go with that. We saw each other once every fortnight or so. In the in between periods we contacted each other unremittingly on Facebook and What’s app. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was being ground down and gradually exhausted by the relationship and I think us not seeing each other played a large part in that.

I think the internet loses a lot in terms of tone and context. It’s difficult to put across those things to just characters on a screen. Undoubtedly the person reading that will attribute context and tone to it, whether it is there or not.

My situation

Facebook is normally the cause of break ups because one partner uses it to cheat or another believes that their partner is cheating using Facebook. Her words were “Cyberstalking you is my way of letting you know I care.” Both these things happened, well, sort of. However, quite early on, we descended into a situation where we would use Facebook to chat. When we worked together and saw each other every day, it was fine. When we didn’t was when the trouble used to creep in, and this, in my opinion is how Facebook played its part.

I’m quite puzzled that there has been a change in divorce law in the UK. A person could give one of several reasons for divorce and now it is reduced, in simplicity, to just five. Consistently, year after year, the top cause cited in nine out of ten divorce cases was “breakdown of communication”.

With us, because we were communicating predominantly on Facebook and what’s app, we never spoke in person. When a problem occurred, we’d discuss it on what’s app and Facebook, never talking about it in person. The problem was therefore never resolved. It just lay under the surface. We’d have a growing animosity towards each other that didn’t exist when we were in each other’s presence, and probably still wouldn’t.

What happened was that we had substituted speaking in Facebook and what’s app for regular communication and as a result, a chasm grew.

Then came another event. She decided to open Pandora’s box. She used Facebook to contact several of my exes. Something that was never going to end well for either of us. She did this alongside messaging several of my friends that she had never or barely met.

When I was younger, one of my Catholic mentors was talking to me about money. He said “Money is like a gun. A gun is a tremendously useful tool. Money is a tremendously useful tool. Unfortunately, people use these tools for evil, as is their nature.” I think social networking tools are the same.

Social networking is a useful tool, but when it’s misused or substituted for normal conversation, it can be misused and used for evil, which has the propensity to reduce a relationship between two people who, when they are together are the most in love couple people have ever seen, to a smouldering wreck of a relationship with little or nothing to salvage from it.


I suppose the main lesson I will take from this is that number 35 will not be on my Facebook, nor will I talk to her in any other format than in person, especially for those super serious conversations.

The past can hurt. You can either run from it or learn from it. I prefer to do the latter.