Texting is Paying More for the Right to Say Less

Keeping it zipped.


I don’t text.

There, I said it. Admitted it. Confessed, all right? I’m one of the few people in the world who doesn’t use my phone to fire off written messages using shortened forms of words and expressions.


Two years ago, I heard from a red-state woman in distress: her friends had taken to texting, rather than calling, and she just did not like it. Too impersonal, too short. If she called them and left a message, or e-mailed, they wouldn’t call or e-mail back – they’d text. In turn, they complained because she didn’t text.

As in, “Honey, we all do it! It’s the new way to communicate. You’re just makin’ life harder!”

Oh, man.

Number one, I suggested, get new friends. People who actually enjoy freeflow communication, who don’t mind pauses, who enjoy hearing others’ voices. Or who are willing to sit down to a keyboard and compose a few lines with genuinely spelled words. Who recognize that communications aren’t just-add-water, that they ebb and flow as we consider and reflect and recall.

Number two, give in. Because her friends outnumbered her, and she had already been left out of certain events because she hadn’t responded fast enough to a text. (Actually, that rudeness alone would be reason enough for me to edge away from those “friends”.)

Really, what’s going on here? Why do people pay more for the right to say less?

Isn’t it all about control? If I text you, I keep it short, way short. Telegraphic, in fact. (Remember those old-fashioned things, telegrams? How many black-and-white movies’ plots hinged on a well-timed telegram?)

I fire a text off to you and sometimes expect instantaneous response. But even if it doesn’t come, I feel virtuous. I have communicated with you . . .  minimally, of course, but in the latest mode, and often while supposedly occupied doing something else: listening to a lecturer, walking with my kids (last week, I saw a woman pause in mid-restaurant-doorway with her three children and a pram, so she could hold her phone outside for good reception for her text), even driving my car or bus or subway train.


When your text arrives, my heart leaps. Adrenalin courses through my body. I have a text message. I must must must respond. Even thinking about response distracts my attention from the task at hand, often one I’m being paid to do and which affects other people’s health and safety.

Your text is minimal, and so is mine, and they’re often just updates on current activities. Especially if we’re teenagers.

But where is consideration of what’s been said? Where’s the recall, the reflection? Where are thought, the juicy flow of firing neurons, the choice of words and quotes, allusions, even real humor?

Gone. Gone with the SMS.

It’s all about control and keeping things clean and sanitary. If we don’t talk, there are no uncomfortable lulls. If we use text spelling and keep it brief, anyone can achieve verbal competence, so no one need feel that their vocabulary needs reinforcement. And if we keep it shortform, we don’t have to do much explaining. There’s ultimate deniability.

How can my words offend you? They weren’t even words!


What is it about genuine communication that is so fearsome?

Go ahead, enrich the phone companies. Pay more to say less. You don’t have a texting problem.

You have a texting solution to a problem that’s much bigger.


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Filed under Communication, Musings, SMS, Text, Texting

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