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Something Like a Phenomenon

Text messaging: simply a modern form of instant information, or the next nail in the coffin of proper communiqué?

 

By Kathryn Lurie

In March, text messaging played a rather large role in the biggest argument a friend of mine and I had ever had. It started out as a miscommunication, but it was continued because of a complete communication breakdown. My friend and I were on the verge of a massive fight, and the principal cause of it was our chosen methods of communication (text messaging and e-mailing). We were both under a lot of stress; she was planning her wedding, in which I was a bridesmaid, and I had just gone through a breakup. For almost a week all we did was write to each other to say how we were pissing the other off, and since we were both on the defense, there was no room to interpret the simplest text messages (even “I’m sorry u feel that way”) as anything but aggressive. The only way to resolve the fight was a F2F discussion. (For the uninitiated, that’s face-to-face.)

The old adage of less-is-more is true for many things. Decorating, eating, bikinis, whatever. But in most circumstances, it should not apply to communication. We already exist in a world where it’s practically unnecessary to speak to each other. In much the same way we transfer money and accounts around on the Internet without ever touching a dollar, we can communicate with someone for days and weeks on end without ever going to the trouble of hearing each others’ voices.

Text messaging, texting, Short Message Service, whatever you want to call it, is an easy, quick way to make plans; to be able to chat subtly during long, boring meetings; or a way to converse while you’re in a noisy bar or other circumstances where cell-phone use would otherwise not be possible. Above all, it’s quick. We’re such suckers for instant gratification, aren’t we? But short-direct-simple is not always the best policy. I’m not going to argue against the numerous merits of texting; however, we should pay attention to how this form of contact can aid and abet simply dreadful communication.

Even a couple years ago, when texting was not as omnipresent as it is now, CBS did a story about how linguists are alarmed at the amount of abbreviating going on in texts. They “worry that the proliferation of text messaging . . . will enforce sloppy, undisciplined habits among American youths.” LOL! No kidding. At netlingo.com or webopedia.com, you can even find a dictionary of text-messaging abbreviations. Did you know that UV is shorthand for “unpleasant visual”? And that F2T means “free to talk”? And T+ means “think positive”? There are dozens more of these irksome little acronyms. What is happening to our language, people?

It’s no secret that text-messaging has become an enormously popular way to “talk,” and it’s becoming more ubiquitous by the day. According to BBC news, mobile phone users in the U.K. sent a record 3.3 billion text messages in May, and they expected that figure to increase in June due to World Cup-related messages. The foreign minister of Finland even set new rules of diplomatic engagement at the start of his country’s European Union presidency at the beginning of this month by stating, “Don’t call me, I’ll text-message you.”

Convenience aside, this means more and more people (including politicians and others whose job it is to talk) aren’t talking. This, my friends, is a big problem. Text messages lack the accompanying inflections and intonations of the voice, not to mention facial expressions and body language. Sarcasm is always harder to detect in written messages than spoken ones, the result of which can be detrimental to interpreting a message properly.

There are plenty of problems beyond the inevitable miscommunication that one can identify about texting—the inevitable crises caused by texting while driving, and texting too much in general (causing injuries to your fingers, wrists and arms, as physiologists are warning against these days) are two of the popular gripes. Hollywood has even blamed poor box-office sales (for movies like Gigli and Charlie’s Angels) on movie-goers texting each other that movies stink. But all that aside, texting has allowed an already comfortably passive-aggressive society to become even more passive. A good example is the growing trend of people ending relationships over texts. (Think the Sex in the City episode where Berger breaks up with Carrie on a Post-It.) According to relationship experts, text messaging is “ruining our love lives.” The Scotsman says, “an increasing number of men and women are using text messages as a way of avoiding real communication, informing their partners of life-changing announcements by text, and shunning conversations in favour of a simple SMS.”

Texting isn’t just affecting people’s personal lives, either. Professionals are being affected by the ease of personal avoidance in the workplace. According to an article called “Y Texting Maybe Bad 4 U” by Skynews (sky.com), “Standards of spoken and written communication in the world of work are being ‘destroyed’ by the use of e-mails and text messages.” Great. Our CEOs aren’t only mind-numbingly rich, their minds are just going numb.

Use text messaging; I’m all for it. I use it every day. Once in a while, though, pick up the phone, and remember what it feels like to have an actual conversation.


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