Hookups and iPhones

Donna Frietas’ book, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Sexual Intimacy, is getting a lot of attention in the mainstream media. In the book, Ms. Frietas analyzes surveys of 2,500 students from 11 campuses to discover that hookups (defined as “fast, uncaring, unthinking, and perfunctory sex”) are perceived as the only romantic option on campuses, even though many of the students interviewed wished it were otherwise. For excerpts from her book, you can look here.

When we were at Princeton a decade ago, hooking up was happening and loudly discussed by some, but it still wasn’t the norm. All of us who blog here were courted by our husbands throughout the college years, and I’d say we all fit pretty well into a wider campus culture of dating.

Relatedly, during college, we checked email on our PCs or on the go from computer clusters and made phone calls from “blue phones” around campus.  Wi-fi didn’t exist, and we didn’t collect friends on a social networking site that originated as an online meat market. The tide turned quickly after we graduated (2000-2003) toward Facebook, cell phones, texting, and i-devices.

Obviously iPhones don’t cause hookups or vice-versa, but they probably do work in tandem to disconnect college students from one another and from themselves. From Ms. Frietas:

Moreover, the campus culture-along with the wider culture-has become more superficial with the advance of technology. A frenetic go-go-go and do-do-do pace, increasing in the midst of an economic recession, has put young adults under ever more pressure. They are competing with each other for fewer and fewer jobs, but burdened with greater and greater expectations of success. Such pressure can breed stress, anxiety, and even selfishness, all of which are aided and abetted by technologies that allow us to text rather than call, and to interact superficially and efficiently, with broad swaths of “friends” and followers, through Facebook and Twitter, rather than engage in meaningful interactions face to face with other human beings. This pace and pressure coincide with the attitudes toward others fostered by hookup culture. Rather than looking at the people right in front of us, we look at our phones, preferring to touch a screen rather than the hand of a partner. Instead of engaging in conversation with those sitting next to us, we text, email, and chat with people nowhere near our bodies. We have become more excited about interacting with the various technological devices at our disposal than about developing relationships with real people, even our own children. This prioritizing of technology over in-person interactions does not teach us how to value the life and body of another human being, or what it means to treat others with dignity and respect. Instead, it promotes the idea that in-person relationships are cumbersome and time consuming-better to be dealt with on- line, or, even better, not at all.

The Anscombe Society at Princeton and on other campuses encourages students to choose chastity and healthy courtship amid the campus culture of empty sex. Maybe they need a temperance-in-technology subgroup : )

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  • Kellie “Red”

    Perhaps I was part of a different path at Princeton, BUT in my experience, the hook-up culture WAS the dating scene! Sadly, what you described above, absent the phones, was really what I saw on the campus. The only group of people who didn’t think I was a complete weirdo for dating and then getting engaged to my now husband were the “religious zealots.” So it makes me sick to think that things are even worse?!? I’m not sure how it could get much worse.

    But with that aside, I do think technology can cause us to become more individualistic and disconnected from real relationships. I just read the book, Alone Together, and it talks about the changing culture of relationships now that computers play such a prominent role in our lives. It was very interesting (although talked a bit too much about robots for my taste!), I’m sure you would like it. And I do think there are real evils that come with relying on computers for so much.

    That beings said, I don’t think computers (devices of any sort) are the problem, and, like it or not, they are here to stay. I know it sounds cliche, but computers are just a tool that can be used well or abused. The users are the problem. We live in a culture where people have very little self control in ANY area of their lives. And so, I think we need to be careful about blaming the device. It is akin to blaming the cake for our overeating 😉 It is easy to point a finger at the computer and blame it for X, Y, or Z, but it is also doing X, Y, or Z for you, and connecting you to others in many, many ways that were never before possible– like this blog or our group e-mails. There is always a give and take, and like all things, balance is really important. We all need to do a better job of practicing this in our own lives, and passing on the skills to strike a balance with our children. My sons already struggle much more with technology temptations than my daughter, and so I am betting the rules will be different for each as they get their own phones/devices someday. And I say this as someone who does not own a smart phone — just an old flip phone for me. But I do see there are real benefits to smart phone ownership (and also drawbacks).

  • Saoirse

    I think that the “hooking” up culture was very strong when I was in college too – and I’m a little older. I went to a Catholic college so there were also a good sized group of folks who didn’t partake in that practice – but it was difficult not to be considered strange for it.

    As for Iphones, I think it is an age thing. I was recently at an alumni even for my college where “younger” alumni were grouped together – younger being within 20 years of graduation – and it was almost entertaining to be able to literally tell the “class year” by cell phone use. Folks who went to college pre-iphone – had what I consider a more normal use of the technology. My friends and I – who graduated in the late 90s – sat talking to one and other. We occasionally checked our phones if we got a text or call from a late arriving friend or babysitter – but generally – they were in a pocket or a purse. One friend with a child who wasn’t feeling great and left with Grandma kept hers on the table. We took one group photo with one iphone during the evening. One turn of the head to the table next to us – a group of alumni 5+ years younger than us sat with phones in hand. They were literally in their hands the entire night – constant picture taking and texting – less talking. At one point – a classmates came over to us – not a friend but a guy we knew from around campus. He laughed and said you ladies look familiar – and from the fact that you aren’t holding your phone like a life line – I’m guessing you are either my year or around it. We were struck that it was true.

    I see kids my oldest son’s age with iphones and I worry for them. They will already take pictures of others without their permission – and post them on line. And, oh my – the distraction of texting and games! I cannot imagine how hard it is to focus on anything with that number of texts, etc. My kids’ babysitter’s iphone is constantly dinging a message alert. I asked her how she manages to get anything done – she said she has to give the phone to her parents when she has homework or something to do because she cannot resist the temptation.

  • Kellie “Red”


    You are so right about the age thing. I am trying hard to not just judge this next generation, but look at it as a generational thing that our kids will need to navigate and have strategies for handling in a healthy manner. Obviously, the hook-up culture is bad and must be completely avoided. But the phones, how can we teach them to use this technology responsibly when their peers are not doing so? Your babysitter giving the phone to her parents when she is trying to focus is exactly the sort of thing that I think is great! But there are other times when the phone is keeping them from real relationships. What are some “rules” for that? In past generations, when temptations were around, people learned from a young age how to handle those temptations, what strategies were needed, and what basic “rules” needed to be followed to not fall into “sin.” Those do not exist w/r/t phones and technology. So, for example, while it is possible not to “sin” when dating a boy and staying overnight in the same room, it is VERY difficult. Staying in separate rooms is ideal. This was a cultural “rule” not too long ago, and we see what happens when this barrier is taken away. The Christians I knew in college followed this rule anyway, and helped hold one another accountable. What sort of “rules” like this should the younger generation of Christians follow w/r/t technology? Avoiding a smartphone completely seems extreme and disengaging from the culture. I think this is a great topic for discussion.

  • Katrina

    JM, great post. This sounds like an interesting book, I would like to read it. I do think you’re right to say that P-ton was a bit more traditional than other universities, I even remember reading in one of the big newspapers or magazines that P-ton is the “most conservative” Ivy League. While I remember people talking loudly about hook-ups, as you say, and while I know that it happened quite a bit, I don’t think it was as prevalent as one would have thought given his much it was talked about. I’ll bet that we would be surprised by the actual stats.

  • One technology rule that I have been thinking about is to have a central charging area (in the kitchen) and to have all devices get returned to that place overnight, including mine. I sleep better when I don’t have my phone in my bedroom, though this does mean that I am having to use more old fashioned books!

    My kids don’t have phones, but they do have iPods for music. I do not allow headphones when just walking around the house — they can put music on the stereo sometimes, when we are cleaning up, etc, but it should be a “communal” music experience.

    I LOVE that I can do everything, everywhere, on my iPhone, I can read a good book, the newspaper, update my calendar, ordering groceries, check my email to find out if baseball is cancelled, it can be great. However, that same quality makes it an obstacle to interpersonal relationships. When I am on my phone, no one knows what I am doing, and the same applies to others, for better or worse. I usually don’t speak to my husband when he is looking at his phone because he might be reading a work document, but I have recently begun peeking over his shoulder — if he is reading sports news on Twitter, I can interrupt, just as I would feel free to talk to him if he were reading the paper or watching ESPN.