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May 30th, 2006
Tue, May. 30th, 2006 11:03 am

I'm about to write my next Wired column. I've decided it's going to be about the effect of information addiction on the life of couples. And I'd like your help, because I don't want it just to be me going on about me. But naturally it starts with me, what I've observed in my own life. Here's a photo of me and my then-girlfriend (she's now happily married to someone else) Shizu, back in 2002.



We're sitting at breakfast, each glued to our iBooks. Now, I'm not sure if there's anything "wrong" with this picture. If we were reading newspapers, nobody would think it terribly strange. We're both nerdy people who thrive on a constant flow of information. Not all of our life together was spent staring at a computer screen. But quite a lot of it was.

In a sense it was a life-saver: crammed together in a tiny Tokyo apartment, our iBooks gave us a sense of "electronic personal space" which filled out the limited physical space. Each screen was like a virtual private room we could retreat into.

But I'm also interested in the problems that "information couples" run into. I know that I don't really watch TV any more. I'm online all the time. But whereas a couple watching TV, curled up on a sofa together, may have felt "together", a couple surfing on two wifi laptops are visiting different sites, having different experiences. They seem more apart than together. The internet age feels less communal than the TV age did.

So how does surfing impact on your relationship? Is one of you more info-addicted than the other? If so, is there a sense that the less-addicted partner is some kind of "information widow" (or widower)? Bereaved by the internet? Does one of you have more to do online than the other? Does the first one to be bored online dictate some offline activities, or does the one who wants to stay online longest make the other one click around aimlessly for hours?

What about surfing as a form of sociability: do you e-mail each other interesting website addresses? Do you tend to visit the same kinds of sites? I know that when Hisae and I are surfing, language divides us: I'm visiting English-language sites, she's on Japanese ones. But quite a lot of our interaction is me asking her for explanations of things, Japanese stuff I don't understand. When that's going on, we'll either bring up the same page on two machines, or huddle around one. It's actually more sociable than TV. (Of course, maybe the TV is on at the same time.)

What about more dubious areas: are you secretly looking at porn with your partner right there in the room? Are you flirting with someone else, messaging someone? Because the weird thing about this technology is that it makes what's distant seem closer than what's close. Absent people can have more presence than present people. Or do you look at porn together? What about YouTube videos? Is surfing turning back into TV-watching?

What's the sound of a couple surfing? Dead silence, broken only by the sound of two tapping keyboards (quite a pleasant sound, actually)? Is music playing, and if so, who chooses it? Is choosing which iTunes accesses the sound sticks via Airport Express the new fight for the TV remote?

And how close or far apart are you physically when you surf? Are you lying on the same sofa, legs intertwined, laptops touching lids, or sitting at opposite ends of the house on imposing desktops?

Tell me about couples and surfing. I'd like, if I may, to use some of your comments in my Wired piece, so please tell me your full name (or the name you'd like to be known by in the piece). If your comments are off the record, say so. And if you don't want your partner to know you're spilling the beans to Momus, tilt your screen away now.

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