What It Is Wednesday: Is Texting Destroying Us?
I’m on of those people who uses my smart phone for just about everything except making phone calls.
It’s been that way ever since the first additional features on our phones beyond calling: texting, instant messaging, Facebook messenger, various apps, even email. I’m not sure how it started but non-spoken communications have become my preference. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been so busy at work or in the evenings and it wasn’t as easy to take a phone call on the spur of the moment. It was easier to answer a text while sitting in a meeting or when time allowed later in the day.
It’s not that I don’t like hearing the voice of the person I care about. It’s not…I really don’t know. It could be because I’m a writer at heart but I don’t think that’s it either. I do like with texting, messaging, and emailing that I have time to consider my answer.
Ahem. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, as I am prone to write ten-page, spill-my-guts tomes after midnight and usually regret them woefully the next day. Just ask any ex-boyfriend and a handful of other people I felt could handle “me.”
I really don’t know why texting and instant messaging have become so easy for me, have become my default method of communicating with loved ones during the day and often into the night.
I’m not a millennial so you can’t blame that.
I am a bit of a geek, so maybe that’s it.
I’m also an introvert, and I find and always have found–because I’m old enough to remember the difference–that written communication online levels the playing field for me. In a BIG way. I’m a quiet person with a soft voice, so in a room full of people, I’m often unheard or over-talked, and it’s sometimes too much effort to engage in person. If I’m at a party that’s loud or the music is cranked up or if the acoustics are bad in a restaurant, I will give up early on conversation because I tire of straining my voice and half-shouting just to be heard.
When I meet people for the first time, after knowing them only on social media or online forums, they inevitably remark, “Why aren’t you talking? You have so much to say online,” or “You’re so much quieter than I thought you would be.”
That’s because that force field of online forums or texting or messaging gives me an equal voice to anyone else on the internet. I do talk a lot, share a lot, engage a lot online and through messages, whereas through spoken conversation, it takes lot of effort.
I know plenty of men my age, give or take a few years, who are shy and balk at telephone calls or even meeting in person, but they’ll talk up a storm at night, texting three or four hours at a time, every night, week after week. Try to get them to meet in person? Won’t happen. You might think this is a matter of laziness but it’s not. However, they do want to be able to control the flow of conversation while they’re engaged in other activities at home or…able to watch a football game while juggling a conversation or two. You might think they have other commitments such as wives and girlfriends, but that’s not the reason either (I’ve checked, yes, and sometimes but usually not in the cases here). Like me, they’re not necessarily gifted at gab and want time to think through an answer before they shoot back a text, sometimes even correct their own grammar and punctuation. I sheepishly admit that I’m sometimes a slow texter just because I have to fix a comma here or there.
But I have several male friends and a couple a female friends and some relatives, too, who spend their lonelier evenings texting me, and it’s easy and it medicates the pain they feel and we all feel connected. But something is missing that bothers me.
We rarely see each other.
Our relationships, even though they may be close, are tied to our smart phones, even if we work in the same building or in the building next door or within a thousand feet of each other. Some of the people I talk to the most have standing weekly or monthly lunch dates with me where we actually look across the table at each other and we can know for sure that if one person says, “Sure, I’m fine,” that the smiley face that we see is a real smiley face and not just an emoticon to assure the other of something that may not be true. So many people wear masks and it’s easier to know that the person across the lunch table has the mask off or not–at least as an empath, it is. By text or instant message, I’m never so sure, and it’s so much easier to hide emotions.
But here’s what bothers me on this What It Is Wednesday, something that struck me late Monday afternoon on my way home. I have friends who work and live close to me. Close enough to meet at the end of the street or in the lobby of our office building and have a quick conversation or a long one. Or walk half a block to a coffee shop and spend the morning in long, luxurious conversation. Or jog around our neighborhood for 5 miles while we catch up. And yet, the bulk of our interactions are by text and instant message.
I recall blogging about an anonymous man who aggressively pestered me for an entire month but would never set a date to meet face to face, and we both lived and worked within 3000 feet of each other. We could so easily have sat in the little park half-way between our offices at lunch, but he could never make the transition from texting and phone calls to an actual date. When I finally said, that’s enough and if you want to keep talking to me, we need to meet, he became threatening. I guess I wasn’t too worried about this threats–they were all by text and he still wasn’t making any effort to see me in person.
But these friends who concern me are more than potential dates. These are friends. Real friends. People I care deeply about…but rarely see. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but these are people I’m close to and talk to frequently and…seldom see. It’s not just me–this seems to be a two-way, unspoken agreement that we can carry on our relationships entirely through written messages. I tell myself that I don’t really want to move from this area because of some of these friends, but the sad truth is, I could live six hours away or six states away or in Europe and still talk to them via text just as much and see them in person just as seldom.
Maybe it’s just more habit than anything else, but I’m thinking I might cut back on certain methods of communicating unless it’s to set up lunch or meeting face to face to talk. We’ve put up this magnificent force field between us, and no matter how real and how close we are online, it’s just not real enough or close enough for me any more.
Key Takeaway: Communication through text messaging used to be a more comfortable option for people who feel awkward in face-to-face social situations but it has become an excuse to keep relationships at a distance instead of meeting in person.