I listened to an interesting broadcast on NPR this morning about how text messaging is affecting the dating culture in Kabul, Afghanistan.  According to the piece, college students in Afghanistan are using text messaging to secretly initiate relationships.  Datingnpr.gif and marriage remain taboo topics in Afghanistan, as strict rules prevent young men and women from having any interaction with one another before they are married.  NPR’s Rachel Martin reports, “Afghan culture and Islamic tradition dictate that young men and women can’t even look at each other directly, let alone have a private conversation.”


For privileged young adults in Afghanistan, Kabul University resembles somewhat of a haven from the country’s otherwise restrictive social doctrine.  Some students at this university use text messaging to secretly contact members of the opposite sex, and sometimes even use this technology to arrange secret meetings.

For young Afghans, meeting each other for the first time is extremely difficult.  Cell phones are helping some college students there to bend the rules and contact one another directly instead of through third parties.  “Now, instead of passing notes through emissaries or trying to befriend a familiy member of a love interest, young Afghan men can send a text message on a cell phone to introduce themselves to a girl, flirt, or even arrange a secret rendezvous,” states Martin.

When talking about her secret relationship with her boyfriend, a young Afghan girl says “I love him very much.” But their relationship must remain a secret or else “my brother will kill me.”

This trend is a more extreme version of text-message-dating here in the States or in Europe, where cell phone relationships are much more casual, revolving around cute abbreviations and informal communication. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of texting in regards to relationships in the west is whether or not it is acceptable to break up with someone via text message.  In a 2004 survey in Great Britain, 20 percent of Texting.gifBritons aged 15 to 24 admit to breaking up with someone via text message. 

Xeni Jardin, a tech correspondent for NPR, described text messages as “digital post-it notes”, but commented that “while text messaging is a great way to test the romantic waters, it is not a substitute for face-to-face exchange”.

But while text messaging may seem impersonal to Americans or Europeans, it may in fact be the best option for young Afghan lovebirds. 

However, with only 600,000 cell phones for a population of almost 32 million people (just one cell phone for every 52 people), and a per capita income of just $800/year, it’s pretty clear that the cell phone revolution has not yet taken over in Afghanistan.  This leaves only the most privileged young Afghans with the opportunity to use their cell phones in order to take control of their social networks.