Saturday, February 13, 2010

"I'll Text You" - The Appeal of Impersonal Communication

Ever find it funny that a phrase spoken thousands of times a day was probably hardly ever uttered as recently as 7-8 years ago? If you said "I'll text you" to someone back then, you'd have gotten an odd look in response. Same thing goes if you told someone "I'll IM you about that homework later" back in the mid-'90s or if you said "I'll email you those files you were asking for" back in the '80s. As technology continues to progress (and gain a stronger and stronger hold on our lives), our preferred methods of communication become less and less personal.

I got a new phone today, and after going over all the texting plan options, mobile internet packages, how to check your email and use the camera, etc. etc., I had to remind myself - "oh yeah, this thing actually calls people too." You have to admit, we love our phones in this generation. But what we love even more is using them for things other than phone calls. We hardly ever call people any more just to talk; we usually only call people or (gasp!) interact face-to-face if the situation explicitly demands it.

Between AIM, email, and texting, it's a fair estimate that we do as much non-personal communication in a given day as we do personal communication. People from our parents' generation do not comprehend why we text - after all, why not just speak to the other person directly? Well, let me take a stab at explaining why. Texting is ideal for non-urgent matters, or telling people things that they don't need to respond to. Telling someone "I'll meet you there in 10 minutes" does not require a phone call. It's also good for when you really don't have anything meaningful to say. For instance, I text funny movie or TV quotes to people all the time, just for them to read at their leisure. It's a little thing that can lighten your day up.

If it boils down to one thing, it's this - the techno-savvy generation will avoid confrontation every chance it gets. Texting avoids people being put on the spot - you can respond as quickly -or not as quickly- as you want. Emailing people at work instead of calling them keeps us from hearing an possibly agitated person on the other end (or keeps people from hearing our agitated selves on our end). Most of all, texting and emailing are a crutch. We don't have to think on our feet in texts or emails, and we don't have to worry about stumbling over our words or sounding like an idiot. Why? Because (and we ALL do this) you get to read over your texts and emails before they're sent, giving you a chance to finely tune your words like a surgeon.

We've seen countless "funny because we've all been there at some point" scenes in movies and TV shows where a guy is sitting next to the phone rehearsing his words before calling a girl to ask her out. Has it reached the point that these types of scenes are now obsolete? Would an equivalent scene now consist of a guy (or a group of girls) zeroed in on a phone screen nervously constructing the perfectly-worded text? I believe it has. And in the height of irony, we defer to impersonal communication to avoid looking stupid, but so often it renders us looking like drones attached to a tiny piece of machinery. I guess it's one battle lost and one battle won.

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