Valentine's Day: Has technology made love letters obsolete?

theGRIO REPORT - The demise of the carefully crafted handwritten letter has been replaced with an instantaneous text and 'so-called' intimacy can now be flaunted on the Internet...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

It wasn’t long ago that when a couple fell head over heels in love romantic expression was communicated through the exchange of tender and passionate love letters.

These days all that has changed with the spread of new technology. The demise of the carefully crafted handwritten letter has been replaced with the instantaneous text and “so-called” intimacy that can now be flaunted on the Internet.

In fact, it’s hard to believe there was actually a time when people sent poems or old-fashioned love letters to each other on Valentine’s Day, declaring their love. Nowadays most people choose to type a simple “I luv U” text message, which demands far less concentration and arguably less commitment.

Indeed, the use of e mail, e-cards, the cell phone and social networking sites has created a whole new machinery of communication that is playing an increasingly significant role in our everyday lives. For example, according to a 2010 survey by Nielsen, American teenagers on average send or receive 3,339 texts a month.

When it comes to matters of the heart, new technologies have made love more social and less exclusive. Some, for instance, even choose to announce the news of a relationship’s demise via e-mail, text or on a social media site.

Keyaira Kelly, who is a Communication Management Master’s degree student at the University of Southern California, says different modes of communication can enhance intimacy, or at least create the illusion of intimacy. Text messages are a “lean communication medium” and face-to-face interaction is a “rich communication medium.”

“Face-to-face interaction is a far richer medium of communication because of vocal cues, hand gestures and facial expressions, which in turn creates intimacy,” says Kelly, who has carried out research exploring how intimacy among college students varies with different communication technologies.

“Whereas text messages do not have as many cues and are a ‘blanket form of communication’,” she adds. “Despite this discrepancy, a college student prefers to text and occasionally makes phone calls to disclose intimate information, particularly at the early stages of a relationship.”

Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta, says social media may even be changing the nature of love itself. “It undermines intimacy by spreading it out to wide” and the second issue is the “fast pace of expression,” he says.

“The big issue is when you spread out your feelings, including love, the feeling itself starts to dissipate,” says Bauerlein, who is also editor of The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking.

“People who communicate quickly do not take time to express in a unique way. When you speed up expression of any feeling you resort more and more to a conventionalized, cliched formula, and this isn’t good for the expression of love,” he says.

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