Breadbcrumbing: The Agony of the Digital Tease

Illustration by Tom Bloom

Excerpt from this article:

There was the breadcrumb dropped on Valentine’s Day, by the ex-girlfriend of my friend. The two women hadn’t spoken in months, after a prolonged breakup, and the ex was now seeing somebody new. Yet there she was, on the day of Hallmark-themed romance, “liking” my friend’s Instagram photo … from three weeks ago. Which meant she had to have been scrolling through her feed.

There was the friend, a digital strategist who, every few days, would receive a “sup” from a recruiter, except that the recruiter would never set up a time to meet. Once, my friend returned to his desk to find a “failed Google hangout” notification from this person, to which the recruiter later messaged to apologize for the “butt dial.”

…For anyone who’s ever dated, or maintained any kind of relationship, in the digital age, you have probably known a breadcrumber. They communicate via sporadic noncommittal, but repeated messages — or breadcrumbs — that are just enough to keep you wondering but not enough to seal the deal (whatever that deal may be).

Breadcrumbers check in consistently with a romantic prospect, but never set up a date. They pique your interest, of that prospective job, perhaps, by reminding you repeatedly that it exists, but never set up the interview.

…Like most of today’s torturous microcommunications, we have technology to thank for breadcrumbs. Sure, they may have existed a decade ago (a nod on the street, a “what’s up” in the hallway — these were technically breadcrumbs, right?) but they didn’t have quite the same “desperate wondering about what someone means,” Ms. Simmons said.

“These are connections, not conversations,” said Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T.

 

 

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