An edited version of this interview originally aired on Spark (20/2/11). The full-length version is available through the Spark in the Summer podcast (31/7/11).
"The medium is the message."
Marshall McLuhan was an expert on media, technology and society. Well, it turns out that he's also something of a relationship expert. Indiana University professor of communication and culture Ilana Gershon believes that McLuhan's words are most true when discussing the world of romance. In today's tech-savvy, digitally oriented society, when it comes to break-ups, it's not why it's done, it's how.
Gershon's new book, The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media, explores breaking up in a digital age. Today, a text message or Facebook status update can make or break a relationship. She interviewed hundreds of scorned lovers, those dumped in person, over the phone and simply blocked online, but every subject returned to the same theme: it wasn't that the break-up happened that bothered them. It was how.
Gershon admits that this theme surprised her, and when she first started asking about break-ups, she was looking for something a little more dramatic. "I thought I would get wonderful stories about infidelity, about people who were arguing until six in the morning or would not return their lover's or ex-lover's possessions," Gershon revealed to Spark host Nora Young. "Nothing of the sort. Everybody answered 'It was on Facebook. It was text.'"
What startled Gershon even more in her research was the role technology and social media also played in how one got over the relationship. Problems like associating a ring-tone with an ex-lover, ensuring that a Facebook profile reflected their newly "single" status, letting friends and family know that a relationship is over or even using "new media to disentangle" has become a major, and emotional, step in the break-up process.
But why do we place so much emotional weight on how someone breaks up with us? Gershon believes the answer to this is quite simple: new media is "new" and the accepted rules of what medium to use and when are still being figured out. Until someone takes charge and becomes the "Emily Post of new media," these situations are going to become increasingly complicated as more networks, platforms and technologies emerge.
Breaking up. No matter how many different ways it cab be done, it will always be hard to do.
Have you ever broken up through social media? Share your story in the comments below!
The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media by Ilana Gershon
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"A few generations ago, college students showed their romantic commitments by exchanging special objects: rings, pins, varsity letter jackets. Pins and rings were handy, telling everyone in local communities that you were spoken for, and when you broke up, the absence of a ring let everyone know you were available again. Is being Facebook official really more complicated, or are status updates just a new version of these old tokens?"