Communication Text-Down, Ain’t it Ashame!

Alas, I am a writer, and words are my stock and trade. To be honest, writing is far more than merely words. To write well, what matters is what you do with them – the application of words.

"WTF is THAT supposed to mean?"

I am in love with the use of language for expression: in conversation and in music; the placing of it onto paper in forms such as these columns or personal letters; the way words and their arrangement can mean the difference between closing a deal or not, making up or breaking up, conflict vs. compromise.

Language has been important since the first swing of a caveman’s club to signal his interest in a cavelady (and who can blame him, the way she filled out that pterodactyl-skin dress). And it was also that cavelady (or some other muse) which enabled the presence of mind in him to realize (after the swelling on her head went down) that there had to be a better way for him to communicate his interests and desires, which forced the need to develop understandable language (of course, it had to be a woman who inspired talking).

Technologically speaking, we have come a long way from grunts and gestures (and clubbing), and live in an era where communication is instantaneous and no longer requires the other party to even be present. Cell phones have revolutionized keeping in touch, connecting, and conversing; the only thing lacking is that primal impulse-fulfillment of being able to slam the phone down on someone in order to make an angry point (little keytone *’doots* don’t quite capture the moment).

Although cell phones seem to have helped communication, there is one function that has caused an overall deterioration of language and communication: the text message. Despite its wide-ranging, abbreviated sub-speech, texting lacks the overall form and context that melds language with comprehension; removed is all tone and the subtleties of speech along with it, when they are delivered blankly on the open canvas of a text screen.

I have seen the most absurd misunderstandings ensue over the simplest typo or briefest text or, worst of all, a text that gets delayed due to some real-world circumstance (like suddenly being engaged in work or other, ahem, personal business) which made a timely response impossible (and what constitutes ‘timely’ is very much in the eye of the text-beholder; as is what defines a ‘reasonable’ – even if previously undeclared – time-frame).

Texting has replaced much regular human contact with abbreviated verbal snippets. It has also removed the connecting energies of vocal inflection, replacing them with impersonal, truncated messages.  The texting forum, seemingly designed and engineered for quick, rhetorical, or informative messaging, has somehow exceeded its boundaries and encroached upon the territory of conversation, robbing it of the intimacy that language invokes when spoken, stripping away the sensuousness of speech and vocabulary.

If at all you doubt what I am saying, just think for a moment how radically people respond when they hear a foreign accent. Often, it sparks intrigue and provokes interest. But take the foreign-accented person and restrict his or her language in the form of a soundless, aloof  text message, and the word loses it’s magical allure, and the recipient is left with the dullest form of expression.

Now, some might reasonably argue that texting is, literally, the written word, and therefore a worthwhile means of communication. This is correct, but only to a point.  The occasional ”running late, see you in 10“, or fast and flirty “I’m going to fill in the blank your blank tonight” to motivate a lover to race home are instances where using a text is perfectly, socially, communicativelly acceptable.

I would argue, however, that 160 characters is hardly space enough for important and detailed topics, unless you communicate exclusively in haiku and have little to say. Lengthy texting is cumbersome and more often than not, both annoying and prone to misunderstanding. Texting is meant as a convenience when conversation isn’t possible, not as a permanent substitute for speaking.  Plus, it’s not nearly as exciting to get a text from someone you are into as it is to get a call from him or her. The text message is a dismissive medium and, despite our collective interest with high-speed technology, has actually introduced unnecessary delays in communication.

I, personally, cannot stand a text session that creeps past one or two volleys; anything requiring a third exchange or even a single “What does that mean?” is worth a “dial” command, as well as the total fifteen-to-thirty seconds of talk-time which would require five or more minutes to text. Texting has become so ubiquitous, that I expect couples will soon be facing a new relationship-ending expression: “We need to text.”

Let us not forget the dangers of texting by those who insist on doing so while driving: you know it’s not safe and yet you do it anyway. I often am the recipient of impatient and huffy texts because I refuse to respond if I’m behind the wheel. Ironically, usually when I try to call the person who’s trying to reach me, the party DOESN’T ANSWER!

I say we set aside the text as a preferred mode of communication, and get back to whispering sweet nothings into our actual ears (rather than in each others collective virtual space). The tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body and we have but few options to keep it limber. It is my firm belief that keeping verbal vigor alive can only help the species survive and thrive – but who cares what I think?

*Previously  published in the South Florida Chronicle

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