For the first time since we’ve been together (2 years), my girlfriend recently used her telephone to call my telephone. I stared at the device in silence for a solid five seconds before picking it up, and intentionally applied a miffed tone to my opening words. I didn’t have a clue what to make of this diversion from the norm, and I wanted her to understand, in no uncertain terms, that I was far from comfortable with it. After some seconds of conversation, it became clear that she didn’t have a solid reason for choosing to call instead of text. I suspect that she just wanted to irritate me a bit.
It goes without saying that texting is all the rage these days. People who socially communicate by calling are often to be found sporting tartan slippers and really-quite-lovely beige cardigans, the perfect casual-wear for nestling into the sofa while they catch up with their middle-aged son, who is silently resenting them for not texting. Perhaps it’s their gnarled, arthritic hands that rob them of the dexterity needed to text. Or maybe, in their infinite wisdom, they understand that talking is a much better form of communication.
The problem with texting is that you’re missing out on two major elements of communication: tone, and body language. Have you ever tried to convey sarcasm in text message? It’s fucking difficult, even with the use of emojis. Your jokes are destined to be met with a stony-expression, and your subject left wondering when it was that you became mentally disabled. This form of communication is literally retarded, missing two crucial aspects of something that is, quite frankly, difficult at the best of times. We need every tool available to us if we’re to successfully transmit the thrilling tale of how we got a chunk of bacon stuck up our nostril as a child. Text message just isn’t up to the job when it comes to such important stories, and they are important, when you consider how much they bond us to our fellow humans. A well-told bacon-anatomy story could be the difference between you being flush with chums, or alone with a noose around your neck. Millennials may be able to hold four text-conversations at once, but it’s unlikely that any of them will have any real depth. This can only be achieved with time, and the full use of your brain.
Another reason for our obsession with texting is our love of distraction and feeling busy. We anticipate every dopamine-releasing ding of our phones, as it means that we can do something easier for a little while and put off the difficult thing in front of us, whether that’s a challenging project, or using our actual mouths to talk to a friend.
Sherry Turkle – a social psychologist at MIT – believes that actual conversation makes us better empathisers, more creative, and more fulfilled. It’s obvious really – of course we’re not going to be able to empathise as well when we’re missing key aspects of communication. Our creativity is bound to be stunted for the same reason – there’s less stimulus for us to react to. Being more fulfilled speaks to the effectiveness of face-to-face or vocal communication in making ourselves known to our interlocutor.
When it comes to romantic relationships, research found that students who spent a lot of time texting were less satisfied with their partnership than other couples. Texting lacks the intimacy that comes with seeing your partner’s face while you’re telling them about your shitty day, or explaining to them why it isn’t acceptable to use the last batch of coffee beans and “forgetting” to replace them. You may be able to get away with that shit over text message, but not face-to-face. Maybe one of the reasons we like texting so much is because it’s a less effective way to communicate, keeping our abysmal secrets safely cloaked. We’d rather be guarded than vulnerable, because there’s less chance of our uncountable negative qualities being revealed. Not only is face-to-face communication more exposing, it’s also more mentally demanding, as our answers must be delivered almost immediately. There’s no social points to be won with awkward ten-second silences while we think of the “perfect” response. Texting is simply easier, but at a cost of decreased intimacy and affection with those around us.
If you have a request to make of someone at work, you’re also shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t do it in person. A Harvard Business Study found that a face-to-face request is a mammoth 34 times more effective than email. This is due to the frequency of email scams, and the trustworthy, non-verbal cues that are conveyed during a regular old-fashioned conversation. Our faces are much more assuring than a dodgy link in an email.
The next time you’re about to text a friend, give them a call instead. It’ll be less convenient, and they’ll probably think you’re a fucking weirdo, but you might become closer to each other as a result. Even better, meet up with them in person, risk embarrassment and social awkwardness, and gain a potential companion instead of a distanced associate. Communication began as face-to-face grunts, and while we may have advanced a little since those hairy, savannah-dwelling days, that method of discourse still reigns supreme.
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