My niece is one of those stereotypical teens who text over 100 times a day, about average for 13-17 year olds. But among my demographic texting is up 25% over last year, while mobile calls are down 25% over the last three years.
OK, so we are still only texting abut 15 times a day, but it’s a trend nonetheless.
This is partly because phones do so much more. With texting, social media and email, they are hardly phones anymore. But texting has its own virtues, or vices, depending on your point of few.
An article by Katherine Rosman in the Wall Street Journal says this shift has economic benefits. Since texting takes less bandwidth and costs less money, some people are opting for social media and text friendly plans, with fewer talk minutes.
This also explains why texting is even more prevalent in third world countries, and even among certain socio-economic groups in the U.S. African-Americans and Hispanics, for example, text about 50% more than whites.
And there is an economy of time as well. We can scan in five seconds what it would take 30 seconds to listen to. And even if you don’t like thumb typing, new services allow you to talk into your phone and have your message transcribed into text.
Such economic issues don’t explain all the increases, however. Facebook and Twitter, for example, condition us to communicate in micro-bursts, and in fact 4 billion text messages a month are alerts that tell us really important things, like we have a new message on Facebook or an event on our calendar.
But while texting may have economic benefits, it also has social costs. According to Rosman,
We default to text to relay difficult information. We stare at our phone when we want to avoid eye contact. Rather than make plans in advance, we engage in ….”micro-coordination.”
We can excuse these lapses, of course, but I’m not sure we can justify them. Many young people consider phone calls “rude and invasive.” These same people routinely text their friends while you are trying to talk to them.
But the real concern is that text messages often lack context. If you think of a verse or phrase from the Bible as a text message from God, for example, you may miss the meaning entirely by not considering its context.
A text message’s content is so condensed that it routinely fails, even more than email, to convey the writer’s tone and affect. The more we text, the greater the opportunity for misunderstanding.
And this doesn’t even begin to account for the lack of nonverbals, which some experts say convey as much as 90% of our meaning. For some messages, this is OK. “B home in 10 min.” But for others, not so much. “Won’t b home 2nite.” Some messages require an explanation. And a tone of voice.
So here, IMO, are tips for texting:
• Never substitute a text for a needed conversation, even an unpleasant one. Especially an unpleasant one.
• Don’t text a message that will require five more texts to explain. Email or call instead.
• Don’t expect emoticons to adequately convey nonverbals. They can help, but a smiley face is still just a smiley face.
• Don’t text people who don’t text back. Consider their texting tendencies.
• Don’t text while driving. We’ll miss you. Srsly.