Predictably, it warmed my heart to see this entry on Texts From Last Night:

(312):

I didn’t sleep with her. I’m boycotting arizona and she’s from phoenix.

At the same time, though, I’m more than a little sad about it. I feel like one of my favorite guilty-pleasure websites has taken another step on the long gray upward trudge toward respectability, toward being yet another place on the Internet where people show off witty things they and their friends have said.

I’ve half-jokingly claimed once or twice that Texts from Last Night, not Facebook, is the site of my generation. The basic concept was around long before TFLN launched in early 2009: it was generally accepted that if someone sent you a particularly incoherent or hilarious drunk text tonight, you’d show it to a few mutual friends (or even read it out loud to a roomful of them) tomorrow morning. This sounds like a shame tactic, but it wasn’t. There’s usually a little performance, even a little pride, in publicly declaring how drunk you are or were — especially in college — and as often as not the person who’d sent the original text was the one urging it be read aloud.

That’s why Texts From Last Night, while it’s always been stupid and silly and sophomoric, never felt uncharitable; I always felt like the original recipients of the text messages on the site had read them with a half-amused, half-impressed shake of the head before submitting them for publication. The laughable typos and half-baked ideas always seemed bizarrely inventive, as if the sender hadn’t planned to end up in his or her current state but was perfectly happy to embrace it once it happened.

But if the line between self-deprecation and self-congratulation was fuzzy even without TFLN, the texts posted on the site seem to have moved almost too far toward the latter to properly count as a guilty pleasure anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that almost all of the texts acknowledge that the sender is being ridiculous. They’re not even waiting until the next morning to laugh at themselves. In fact, in a lot of cases it seems like they’re trying to do something amusing, like they start the evening determined to have a story to tell the next day. This isn’t a strategy I generally endorse; it leads to the antic desperation of “I Gotta Feeling,” which I refuse to link to and which may have produced the most depressing singalongs I’ve ever witnessed. Furthermore, people who are trying to be ridiculous make for less interesting reading material. I prefer the morning-after stories that are too funny to be embarrassing to the ones that deliberately flirt with embarrassment so that they can be funny when they get retold.

And this is one step beyond that. Publishing a text message that the sender was clearly not only proud to send at the time, but that he or she sent as a matter of principle? Give me a break. It’s a hilarious text message, but it’s clearly not a Text From Last Night. I know that this is hardly the first time in the 21st century that people have started mugging for the (real or virtual) cameras: every website in the history of the Internet has gotten more self-conscious and self-aware as it goes along, and the later seasons of every reality show are full of people who are trying to play the roles they’ve seen. But it usually makes what they’re doing more boring to watch.

Dara Lind

Dara Lind