Digital Relationships and Our Cultural Now

AOL Instant Messanger.

That’s where most of my high school drama existed. Texting wasn’t a thing until I got to college, but goodness do I remember that feeling of having a guy you like ask for your AIM handle (or GAIM because I was a Linux/open source using nerd…). The copying and pasting of SO MANY messages between your chat with him and your chat with your best friend to see if he like-liked you or not. The leaving ambiguous away messages with song lyrics as clues.

Most of my relationships, teen-romances and best-friendships, were forged not in person or over hour long phone calls, but through hundreds of thousands of words online. Some of the people integral to my high-school experience I didn’t even know in person.

Some of my favorite books were recommended by a California gamer I only knew as “Luink” (who also made me feel okay with not drinking in high school and told me I wasn’t as weird as I always thought I was). I spoke Elvish and traded memes with LotR fans from Gaia Online. I fought against trolls and talked about the best way to make pancakes in the KoL forums.  And a guy we’ll only ever know as “Trendskiller” called the FBI when my friend MC was manipulated into giving her personal contact info to a guy who…well…let’s just say the FBI getting involved was a good thing.

30653853So, all this to say, when I saw most of the dialogue and relationship building in The Upside of Unrequited was over text messages, I got really happy. Because it felt more real to me than sixteen-year-olds running around New York and sneaking into clubs or road tripping across the country. (Not that it doesn’t happen, it’s just not something that ever happened to me.)

I’m almost afraid to admit I found the plot and the characters forgettable. Maybe even a little too cliched. I’m not even sure I can say I think this is a YA book that will withstand the test of time.

Actually. I kind of hope it doesn’t.

Because this book isn’t timeless. It’s about a moment in time. A very specific cultural moment in time and what it means to be growing up in it. Text messages, emojis, Pinterest centerpieces, and all.

What are you reading this week? 


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