It has only been in the last five or so years that text messaging, or “texting” has been really popular, nearly replacing phone call s for the fifteen-to-twenty-five age range. But other than those of the older generations that just don’t understand how to use the auto-complete setting, there has been little discussion and analysis regarding how this swift-thumbed social phenomenon is affecting us – our relationships, our social skills, etc.
Let me preface this by saying that I do text, of course. If I didn’t I would be a social pariah, a position not even I am willing to take in the name of peaceful protest. But while I understand and participate in the unspoken act, I am always thinking of the not-so-positive ways it is affecting me, and my peers.
Telephones used to be about talking: not quite the same as face-to-face communication, but almost. Text-messaging reduces the human contact to a modern-day Morse code, with little feeling or emotion. Not to be melodramatic, but countless psychological experiments have shown the detrimental effects of reduced human contact, notably increased anxiety and difficulty relating to and sympathizing with others. Our world is already so digitized; the elimination of immediate voice contact is only another vestige of this mildly disturbing human trend. Emoticons are no replacement for the emotion and sincerity conveyed in a voice – sincerity that just can’t be abbreviated, digitized, and sent through a text.
Similarly, the use of text-messages in place of phone calls makes it easier for both the sender and the receiver to hide: from responsibility, from difficult subjects, from the all-dreaded “awkwardness.” If you are afraid or reluctant to discuss a topic, you can send a text, and tell yourself that you have addressed the issue. In reality, a text is no way to deal with anything: the receiver of your digitized missive should be given enough respect to warrant a phone call. Instead, we are able to hide behind our cell-phone screens, displaying classic avoidance of responsibility and puerile cowardice in a way that is socially accepted. In an example of how this phenomenon has already eroded respectable, respectful discourse, it is now legal in some Asian countries to divorce via text as long as “the intent is clear.” If you are married to someone, you deserve him or her at least a phone call. Texting gives cowards an easy and socially accepted way to say difficult things – while sacrificing accountability, honestly, and sincerity.
On the receiving end of a text, this new method of communication also allows us to dodge responsibility and having the decency to respond to difficult topics (which should not be addressed through this medium anyway). In the most dramatic terms, texting makes us and our messages less important: we send texts so that the person can choose to read our discard our messages at their leisure, leaves us anxious for their potential reply, it creates social tyrants out of the receivers of the message. The receiver can not reply, wait for prolonged periods before responding, or use the ever-prevalent and always-dubious excuse that they didn’t get the text, that it somehow got lost in the digital vortex and never vibrated into their message inbox (in my experience, this is actually the case about .001% of the time). In a phone call, immediate reaction is necessary; in text messaging, it is virtually optional.
There are many other sociological detriments to texting, including the deterioration of grammar standards, questions of academic integrity, and increased cases of carpal tunnel. And I am not trying to stop texting, merely express the difference between “Come on over” and “Marriage = Over”. Even more disturbing than diseases of the thumb is society’s collective act of thumbing its nose at respectful methods of discussion, necessity of human contact, and responsibility in relationships.