In a recent conversation with a friend, I experienced the failures of communication via text messaging in a way that got me thinking. It wasn’t a remarkably serious conversation, but it certainly wasn’t small talk. He asked me a question, not too personal, but requiring a thoughtful answer. As the conversation progressed, the length of messages grew and we were each sending several messages at a time. Before long, the chronological order of the messages was impossible to decipher and I realized I had no idea which of my statements he was responding to anymore. Entirely confused, I finally just said, “I don’t know what you mean.” Realistically, I would have been perfectly able to understand him, if I had known the correct order of his statements. We ended the conversation, but I asked that perhaps conversations like this not take place via text anymore.
But then I started thinking about it, and realized how often conversations of that level of seriousness or importance take place over text. Most of the time, it probably works out fine, but there comes a point when it just isn’t realistic to depend on texting for a certain conversation. At this point, there are a few options: postponing the topic, making a phone call, or simply dropping it. I’m willing to bet that most of the time, the conversation either ends, or returns to light, fluffy small-talk, which can easily take place via text.
Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but it makes me realize how new media is fundamentally changing the types of conversations that we have. Many of us have several long-distance friendships, and use text almost exclusively to communicate with these friends. That is not to say text messaging is bad, but I think it’s important that we intentionally communicate with the people who are most important to us. This might mean actually calling a friend, even though we’ve learned to hate talking on the phone. Or do we just think we hate it because we’re not used to it anymore?
Over the past several years, the impact of text messaging and other forms of electronic communication on our conversation habits have become topics of research. TIME journalist Jeffrey Kluger points out that while texting, email, etc. give us complete control over what we say, when and how, our use of telephone for communication is rapidly vanishing (2012). Individuals are becoming uncomfortable with speaking on the phone, even though it can be a much more direct and effective medium for actual communication. Heidi Hemmer conducted a study at Minnesota State University which discovered differences in the use of text messaging between men and women (2009).
But regardless of what various types of research may be saing, I have a question for YOU. How do you use text messaging? Do you specifically avoid texting for certain topics or conversations? How has texting changed your conversations? For better? For worse? I assume it goes both ways–as most things in life do–which is why I’m not particularly concerned with weighing the pros and cons against one another. I just think we all need to be aware of our use of various media for conversation. When might texting be insufficient for a certain topic? Perhaps at times a more context-rich medium would be appropriate. Are there certains topics which rely more heavily on non-verbal cues? While texting has become an integral part of our constant communication, perhaps we need to consider exactly how, when, and why we use it!
Hemmer, Heidi. “Impact of Text Messaging on Communication.” 2009. Minnesota State University, Mancato. https://www.mnsu.edu/urc/journal/2009/hemmer.pdf
Kluger, Jeffrey. “We Never Talk Anymore: THe Problem with Text Messaging.” Aug. 16, 2012. TIME Techland. <http://techland.time.com/2012/08/16/we-never-talk-anymore-the-problem-with-text-messaging/>
Ashley, Nicholas. Debate: The Effects of Texting. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. <http://www.ted.com/conversations/14531/debate_the_effects_of_textin.html>