The efficiency that texting provides us comes with a cost | The Triangle

The efficiency that texting provides us comes with a cost

Photograph by Ben Ahrens for The Triangle.

Texting is one of the most common forms of communication today, but I’ve always been on the fence about how much information moves throughout our world.

Over winter break, I was gifted a brand new phone for Christmas. When I was transferring data from my old phone to the new one, one of the things that took up the most space was text messages.

I wouldn’t even consider myself to be a heavy texter. The only times that I ever really send text messages are when I need to ask someone a specific question, schedule plans or answer questions. Occasionally, I’ll have a lengthy conversation with someone through text, but it’s rare. On the contrary, some people are able to have multiple, full-length conversations on a daily basis over text.

I’m not so much interested in determining whether texting is good or bad — I would need a novel-length op-ed to even begin to try to answer that question. I think it’s much more interesting to think about the function of texting in today’s world and how it actively impacts people and their ability to connect.

The purpose of technology is to make life more efficient, or that is the way I view it at least. Texting certainly does make certain things more efficient from a communication aspect. Keeping in touch with those who are both far away and nearby, exchanging information, sending out alerts and allowing interaction that is very close to happening in real-time. It also makes certain scheduling tasks easier, like figuring out what plans your friends may have for the weekend.

Texting makes us connected in a way that is more intimate than I often realize. A phone call is more intimate than a text because of the ability for people to hear each other’s voices. Our voices are one of the ways that we express emotion that can’t ever be conveyed the same way over text, making a long phone call with someone a very close experience.

I know I’m not the only one that can be on the phone with a family member or friend for an hour, even if some parts of the conversation are just silence on both sides. To me, the effect of an immediate presence of the other person is one that is very difficult to articulate because it isn’t something that we often address.

As great as phone calls are, they don’t have the same archiving effect that texting has. Of course, phone calls can be recorded and played back, but it’s like comparing listening to something on the radio to reading a book. Yes, they have similar qualities, but they have even more differences.

When you hear someone, their words combined with their tone make is easier to understand what they mean than simply the words they write. In my opinion, it’s one of the greatest double-edged swords of the written word.

Take one of Shakespeare’s most classic quotes from “Hamlet” as an example. “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” Do you put any emphasis on the last four words? And if so, what word do you choose? That is the question. That is the question. That is the question. That is the question. You may not think so, but within the context of the play, the emphasis is no minor factor. The task of interpretation is placed on the reader.

While that may be fine for a work of literature, it is not fine for communication between two people. How many times have you read a text message and have been uncertain of what the sender meant? Detecting sarcasm through any kind of text is one of the never-ending struggles that we’ve been given as a result of this efficient form of communication, and I doubt we will ever be able to fully grasp such nuance.

Despite the complications that texting brings, many people, myself included, have become reliant on it as either their primary or secondary form of communication. I’m not sure if it’s just my group of friends specifically, but most people seem to hate phone calls now unless it is for something extremely important. Obviously, there are people who do like the casual phone call, but I don’t encounter them often.

Texting has a certain level of comfort naturally built into it. It’s very easy to say something through text as opposed to speaking. It replaces the problem of getting tongue twisted with the problem of spelling errors, the latter of which can be more or less embarrassing depending on the context.

However, this point can also be contested, as speaking is something that we do more often than texting, and thus to speak is more natural. Sometimes, we can speak without really thinking, whereas we have to craft a text, type it out and, often, completely delete it and start from scratch. I won’t go as far as to say that  texting isn’t authentic because I believe it is, but it’s an interesting idea to consider how artificial the things that we say through text can sometimes be due to the amount of time we have to think of what we want to say, along with the lack of finality involved until you hit the send button.

Then there is the feeling of uncertainty and dread that sometimes arises after we’ve sent a text that we weren’t satisfied with. After sending it, we might have been satisfied, but after reading it back a few times, we begin to overthink. This leads to worrying about what the recipient may think of it, how they’ll react and whether or not we should quickly send a follow-up text to repair the damage that we think we’ve done, damage that might not even exist at all. It can be quite a vicious cycle at times, especially if you are someone like myself who is very particular with their words.

I’ve always tried to steer clear of texting. I prefer to have conversations face-to-face as much as possible, but I’ll never say that I don’t like texting or that it has had solely a negative impact on us as a society. I vividly recall one day back in freshman year where I had to go the whole day without technology for a communication class assignment, and it was absolutely awful. Of all the things that I wasn’t able to utilize that day, texting was at the top. Having to take the stairs from the 3rd floor of Kelly Hall up to the 7th floor to knock on the dorm room door of one of my friends, and ask them if they wanted to hangout, only to have them respond by asking me why I didn’t just text them, was a painful experience.

I think it’s when we fall into the illusion of security that texting provides that it can work against both itself and us. We casually text so much that we grow comfortable in the space that it creates. When it comes time to have a more serious and potentially intimidating conversation with someone, we can sometimes naturally retreat to that comfortable space because we are more familiar and confident in it than we are in  face-to-face conversation.

In these kinds of situations where we care deeply about what we say because we know how important it is to us and the person we are sending it to, texting provides the luxury of unlimited time to construct what we hope to be the perfect message. At the same time, it strips us of the tone and ability to convey emotion with the same level of clarity that our voices allow us to, making it impossible to ever craft that perfect message.

I hope this didn’t come off as me just soapboxing about the impact of texting on our lives because that wasn’t my intention. Rather, I wanted to explore the function of that relationship that exists between texting and people as a form of communication. The impact of it and how we utilize it is different for everyone, but I think the function of it could be virtually the same for all.