Facebook, Skype, and other new media are well known for their powerful ability to bring people together. But they can also serve as, shall we say, a unique method by which to disconnect. Ilana Gershon studied new media breakups for her book, The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media . Gershon says that although this behavior isn’t acceptable, she came to understand why some people chose digital separation.
Are You F****** Kidding Me (The Facebook Song)
Artist: by Kate Miller-Heidke
BOB GARFIELD: Of course, another utility of Facebook, and other social media, is the possibility of disconnecting online, ending relationships Facebook-to-Facebook instead of face-to-face. Avoidance has always been a breakup tactic. Remember the Sex and the City episode when Carrie got unceremoniously dumped - not face-to-face?
KRISTIN DAVIS AS CHARLOTTE: A Post-It! That’s infuriating!
SARAH JESSICA PARKER AS CARRIE: Yeah, I remember when breaking up over the phone was considered bad form.
CYNTHIA NIXON AS MIRANDA: I once was broken up with by a guy’s doorman. I'm sorry, Miss Hobbes, Jonathan won't be coming down – ever.
BOB GARFIELD: Ilana Gershon is Assistant Professor of Communications and Culture at Indiana University. She interviewed dozens of victims, and perpetrators, of breakups for her book The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Ilana, welcome to On the Media.
ILANA GERSHON: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: You interviewed 72 people for your book, most of whom volunteered their new media breakup stories. Was there any story that you heard that you couldn't believe that anybody [LAUGHS] had the nerve to share?
ILANA GERSHON: I definitely understood why they were sharing them with me, sometimes out of a sense of guilt and trying to make reparation. Like one of the stories that I heard was Ben and Jen were together, and Ben began to realize that they were going to break up soon. And he started communicating with his friend Levi about this fact, and then realized that Jen was going to be moving to a neighborhood where Levi lived and that they should have brunch so that Levi could introduce Jen to the neighborhood. Ben and Levi started having an email exchange about when the brunch should happen and where it should be, and then Ben decided to send this entire email correspondence to Jen to let her know when and where the brunch was going to be, not realizing -
BOB GARFIELD: Uh-oh.
ILANA GERSHON: - until after he pushed Send that at the very bottom [BOB LAUGHING] of this email exchange was a message saying, I realize this is gonna be awkward ‘cause we're about to break up.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm like, yowch! How has it come to pass that this is an acceptable way to end a relationship?
ILANA GERSHON: I interviewed 72 people, I surveyed 400 people about this. Only four people thought that face-to-face was not the ideal way to break up. And the other problem is that even if you break up face-to-face, you've made so many public declarations using Facebook, you've added people to your cell phone - that you have to deal with the ways in which you've become enmeshed on new media and then disentangle. And that becomes really difficult. You've made this declaration of love to a community, and then you’re telling them, no, it’s over.
BOB GARFIELD: I wanna get back to the breakup itself, because it just seems so sleazy to me. Is there any explanation that would make somebody text or use a Facebook entry, or simply change your [LAUGHS] – change your relationship status, unbeknownst to your, you know, soon-to-be former significant other? It’s just cowardice, right? Or is there something deeper going on here?
ILANA GERSHON: I wasn't terribly sympathetic to the people [LAUGHS] who were doing this when I started doing the interviews. But really having done all these interviews, I've gotten a lot more sympathetic. People try to break up face-to-face a couple of times and find themselves still enmeshed in this relationship that isn't working. Sometimes people turn to email or turn to texting to see if this finally will end the relationship. But the other thing that I was very surprised to find out is when talking to people about texting “it’s over” some people thought that texting “it’s over” was the face-to-face equivalent of “we have to talk” and maybe the end of the conversation would be a renegotiation of the relationship, not a breakup.
BOB GARFIELD: Is there any other kind of digital relationship ender that caught your attention?
ILANA GERSHON: I had a story about a Skype breakup that I really loved. She had a webcam, and he didn't. She felt he was just too into her. But part of that was the Skype let him look at her all the time and she could never see him. And I loved the way it was the technology was enforcing that for her.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, that’s either a very subtle and sensitive evaluation of digital anthropology, or you are a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome-
ILANA GERSHON: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: - and you have begun to identify with your subjects.
ILANA GERSHON: [LAUGHING] The part –
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Are you a changed woman, having - having done this research?
ILANA GERSHON: My life has changed tremendously because of this, because I'm now getting to talk to you.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, but we're going to end it very soon.
ILANA GERSHON: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: In fact, I hate to do this to you, you know, over an ISDN line but, Ilana, it’s over. Thank you so much - for joining us.
ILANA GERSHON: [LAUGHING] Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Ilana Gershon is the author of The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media.
KATE MILLER-HEIDKE [SINGING]: I don't wanna know what kind of cocktail you are Or which member of the Beatles Or which 1950's movie star I don't give a toss if you're a ninja or a pirate I suspect you'd be a pirate but I don't wanna verify it And I don't give a sh*t what your stripper name is Or if your kitty had a litter Look, just follow me on Twitter I don't care about your family tree And I certainly don't want you poking me!