Dumb Love Meets Smart Phone


Last week I suggested that the ubiquitous presence of cell phones, texting, automated voice response systems and voicemail is turning us into a disconnected, anonymous society. This week, Katherine Relf-Canas, who at one point in her career worked for the Silicon Valley company that invented voicemail, takes an opposing--and romantic--view.

By some accounts, old school correspondence is nearly extinct. According to Simon Garfield, author of To the Letter, the demise of this dying art has been declared before. The Internet and mobile communications are just new threats.

Text messages we send our intimate partners reflect and respect the origins of the love letter just translated to our modern age. To me, texting is connected to a thousand-year-old historical and literary continuum.

I see the cultural origins of texting in the poetic ancestry of Western Europe circa 1100 A.D. That was a time when bands of wandering minstrels, the Troubadours, began singing about ladies they could not have. Texting has a style modernity can call its own, but it still retains some of this literary inheritance. Before the Troubadours, men just didn’t go celebrating women in verse, or vice versa.

Today, couples text each other at a crowded party when it’s too loud to talk. We think nothing of the speed and immediacy of instant messages. Apps allow couples to maintain their relationships during the workday, while they are out of town, or while they are seated across from each other at a restaurant. In times of crisis, texting can be a lifeline.

To learn more about how modern couples use private messaging to stay connected I began a project that involved a little surveillance—but not that kind. It was sort of a field study.

I was not particularly interested in curious fads like how people use apps to automate their breakups, because my focus was relating, not separating.

Time spent apart is the obvious reason for messaging. It’s what scholars who make a serious study of epistolary works hope for. Time apart might not have been so easy for the pining heart, but it did lead to some great reads.

There will come a day when what we consider to be “letters” may disappear entirely, but one thing seems clear: We will always reach out. Having someone to reach out to. That’s the important thing. Love isn’t dumb. Love is smart.

I wanted to find love stories with the texting and emailing plot lines front and center, like epistolary texts. What do you know? It wasn’t that hard.

For example, take Laurel and Adrien Duermael.

I spotted this couple at a crowded Peet’s café in Silicon Valley. They seemed to be furiously texting one another while sitting at the same table. Maybe they were playing a game, I surmised. As it turned out, they were in a business meeting with their staff in Argentina.

Cofounders of Pixowl.com, a gaming app company, the company that brought you Greedy Grub, Doodle Grub, Safari Party and Sandbox, they use texting to stay in regular contact with teams in Paris and Buenos Aires.

The two used to live communally in Burlingame, California, with two other Pixowl developers, their daughter, Cérise and their cat, Brume. They worked out of their living room and often resorted to email or texting to keep some of their communications private during the workday. Not that they keep things from the group, but, you know, couples share things with one another.

Laurel produces graphics for Pixowl’s titles and helps with game concepts and user interface issues. She and Adrien collaborate on development projects as a little team within the big team, working not only on game titles together but also storylines for Laurel’s book titles. The graphic artist behind many Pixowl game titles has authored a five-album series Carmilla (published by Vents d’Ouest). Soon, the third volume of the series Cérise (published by Le Lombard) based on the life adventures of her now 12-year-old daughter will come out in France. (That’s one of Laurel’s images at the top of this blog post.)

After pairing up romantically seven years ago in Metz, France, the couple is coming up on two years in Silicon Valley. Since 2003, Laurel has maintained a comic/graphic novel/fan art blog that chronicles her life: www.bloglaurel.com

Laurel and Adrien met online thanks to this blog. At the time, Adrien, who also lived in Metz, discovered her online. He read her blog. They arranged to meet in a café after he wrote her some fan mail. It was love at first sight. Select entries from Laurel’s blog became a printed graphic novel, Un Crayon dans le Coeur, published in France by Warum.

Now Laurel and Adrien live together and collaborate so closely that they don’t write each other as much. They had a brisk correspondence when Adrien went off to get a computer science degree in Paris, and Laurel and daughter Cérise remained in Metz.

The text of the letter in which he announces his departure appears in her book in cartoon form. Owing to their shared love of BD or bande dessinée, (that’s French for comics) they often scanned and sent their drawings to each other.

While Laurel has shared private details of her life with her fan base for more than a decade, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t send intimate ones to Adrien once in a while.


Katherine Relf-Canas splits her time between freelance writing and editorial projects while she homeschools. She has contributed to a number of blogs since 1996. Her articles on combining parenting and travel have appeared in a number of online publications. Recently she has been writing about the healing power of art for the bereavement site, Open to Hope. She dedicated the project to her mother, Connie Relf, who worked as an artist and died in 2010. 

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  • Patrice Curedale
    commented 2015-01-24 16:35:16 -0500
    Wonderful piece and perfect timing since Valentine’s Day is coming up and many are wondering, will a text cut it on V Day?
  • Peter W. Yaremko posted about dumb love on Peter W. Yaremko's Facebook page 2015-01-24 05:00:11 -0500
    dumb love