A Ku Indeed!

I Don’t Heart Texting

Posted in Life by Chris on July 2, 2008

A study was just recently released that pointed to a marked increase in the phenomenon known as “texting while driving (DWT).” For anyone who thinks that talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, DWT is obviously far worse, since you have to stop looking at the road to actually punch in letters or to read. To say it upfront — I think this is supremely stupid, if not dangerous to the other people on the road. But right here I’m more concerned to say a few things about texting in general, or the marked increase of it, or what I’ll call “texting while living” (TWL). I’ve got to be honest: I just can’t figure out what the appeal is.

It could be that I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m just starting to talk like that old curmudgeon who prattles on about “the good old days” when things were wholesome and authentic, and so on. After all, I do remember moaning about cell phones ten years ago, and how they were making intrusion into life more and more common, and how they seemed to encourage us to make connections with others much more frequently than usual, although always in a blatantly superficial manner. I have a cell phone, I can’t lie, but I don’t necessarily think that these things didn’t happen (not that I think cell phones are evil, or can’t have good uses).

Now texting is here and seems to me to be the “next generation” of that deep desire for superficial connection. But unlike the cell phone, where at least you could have an actual conversation, texting doesn’t allow for it. All you hope to get are short one sentence conversations full of numbers and abbreviations, almost like a butchered conversation held by telegraph. I think this is what I don’t get. Conversation by texting is entirely inane and vacuous. It just can’t be much more — it takes too long to actually type out an actual meaningful sentence (hence the abbreviations).

So why do people love it so much? So much so that they text while driving – and ridiculously dangerous endeavor? I’m led to believe that we are breeding a generation of human beings who are addicted to human contact and attention from others. It doesn’t have to be meaningful. It just has to be repeated — over and over again. People just want to be reminded that “the others” are always right there — just in reach — whenever I want. Facebook (or Myspace) is no different; the constant need for “status updates” and wall posts and group joining and so on. Hell, even blogs like this one fall prey.

In fact, I was in the phone store the other day trying to get a new cell phone. The guy kept pushing these 300 and 400 dollar phones in my face, saying “these are the best for texting.” I said “but I don’t text.” He was literally taken back, as if he’d met a walking contradiction. “You don’t text?” he seemed to be saying with his look of disbelief, “then what the hell do you want with a cell phone?” Of course, he figured that if I didn’t text, I’d surely want a phone that allowed me to surf the internet. “Not for me,” I replied, “I surf at home. For me the cell phone is just for talking to people, like what phones were originally intended to do.” “Oh” he snickered, “then you really want this phone.” He slid over a plastic piece of crap towards me with a real look of disdain on his face. I thought he might want to wash his hands afterwards to get the impurity off.

This is all getting crazy. C’mon — texting is nuts. Has anyone had an even marginally meaningful text conversation? Do you have to text you friend in class? Is it that hard to be alone for a while? Do you have to text in the car while driving, putting your own life and that of others at risk, just to say “LOL” or “Me2” or “Prolly CU2 there”? Is it just a hopeless addiction to attention getting that can’t be licked? Can’t we just stick with using phones as phones?

Am I just old? Or is there something strange here?

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6 Responses

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  1. Adam said, on July 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Wow. UR old. Heh.

    But seriously, I’m of a completely different mind on texting (or SMS). But it seems to me that you’re missing the point about the usefulness of text messaging. If you’re trying to have meaningful conversations over text, you’re doing it wrong. It’s almost made for people not to use it that way because, unlike actually phoning someone, it’s asynchronous. All texting is is on-the-go asynchronous communication. (And incidentally it’s asynchronous nature makes DWT a little safer, I think, then driving while talking on the phone.)

    So instead of meaningful conversations, you get something that people use as a tool for briefly updating people and little back and forth conversations. And I think this fills an important niche. Both of these are very useful when getting together with friends or in minor acts of courtship. Texting implies a less immediate need for a response than calling, so in a way it’s a kind of liberation from the downside of carrying your phone with you everywhere you go.

    Of course, some people take this too far and text when they should be doing other things. But that’s just the age old problem of wanting to socialize while being places you don’t want to be.

    So I do think it’s useful, even preferable for lots of tasks when you’re out-and-about. As for your second point, that it’s part of a larger conspiracy to create a generation that is incapable of functioning alone: I don’t think it’s the texting or the facebooking that’s doing it. After all, people don’t in any way have to use these things. What’s scary/interesting is that these new social outlets show us, given the chance, just how much this new generation wants to socialize. And it’s a lot. But people aren’t replacing meaningful socialization with texting and facebooking. These things are just social maintenance that takes place behind the scenes, bridging the gaps between meaningful conversations.

    (For the record, I’m considerably more skeptical of instant messaging for basically your reasons. Maybe it’s useful in ways I don’t quite grok, but I largely stay away from it. Texting is entirely different pair of pajamas though.)

  2. Chris said, on July 3, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Hey,

    It’s funny, but as I typed this post out, I said “I’ll bet Twitterman comments on this and defends texting.” And here you are!

    I know it is asynchronistic, but I’m not sure how this makes DWT easier. I see people DWTing and they have to stop looking at the road — you have to keep your eye on the screen.

    Also, it’s not so much that I think people are failing to have meaningful relationships, or replacing them with texting (though I do think this happens with Facebook), but rather that people seem addicted to an almost constant stream of attention, most of it meaningless. It’s as if people just can’t be alone anymore — they must always be stimulated by a never ending stream of “LOL”s and “Wht RU doin” messages.

    By the way, I just got into southern Arkansas (flying out of Little Rock to CT on Saturday). So I’m visiting the in-laws. I’ll get to your other posts later, when things calm down.

  3. Mark said, on July 4, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    So I thought about it, and I think I realize why a lot of people text. It’s the same reason we facebook and IM: It’s safe. I think that our society has reared a bunch of attention whores, but we’re also cowards and when it comes to social interaction, the safer the better. There is less chance for outright rejection when it’s a back and forth tid-bit conversation, and if you are rejected, it’s not as forceful as if you were to get rejected face-to-face, or even voice to voice like in a phone conversation. That’s my two cents.

  4. Chris said, on July 6, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Mark,

    I tend to agree with you that some of the issue is certainly an issue related to courage (or the lack of it, actually). Some texting, I think, is surely harmless, and I have no doubt that texting can be used in purely beneficial ways (just as Facebook can). I’m more interested in the not-so-harmless ways, which I think certainly exist!

  5. Adam said, on July 6, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I tend to think that most people text because it’s useful. But I can see the real thrust of the post was about raising a generation that doesn’t want to be alone (or, less delicately, attention whores).

    I think the internet is making us more social by default, but I think it’s also probably the case that it’s only doing this because we’re wired for it to happen. After all, it’s not a new thing that kids want lots of attention and are fairly risk-averse (even cowardly) in seeking it out. Texting gives them an outlet. But I think that while it used to be only the “popular” kids who got in on the social scene through adolescence, the various social networking sites (and, to some extent texting) allow everyone to get in on the action. Empty conversations will only scratch so much of the itching for socialization and when that stops scratching the itch, texters and facebookers will search out more substantial means. Maybe texting and social networking even constitute a kind of “minor leagues” of social interaction.

    On the other front, I’m not sure people older than the mobile generation here really ever learn to be alone. Heck, most of the people I grew up with were just as craving of attention as this generation. I still think the vast majority of people older than me would never go to the movies alone or go out to eat at a nice restaurant alone.

  6. Jay Mullen said, on July 7, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    “I think the internet is making us more social…”

    Really? We must have different definitions of “social,” my friend. I think of social as a principally “facial” enterprise — something that is done physically with other humans. This involves eye contact, handshakes, gestures, hugging and the like.

    I lean with Chris on this exchange. We don’t put enough emphasis on EI (Emotional IQ). My experience is this is critical to being “successful.” One of my issues with the internet, texting, IM…is we seem to be losing that grand ability to interact with people. I mean really interact — carry a conversation, make difficult decisions in person, really and fully live…

    As a result, while people may be “communicating” more frequently and with greater speed through these faceless mediums, in a way they are becoming more isolated.

    While I agree there are great uses to these technology tools (like now), there is something not totally authentic about them in the end…


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