It bothers me when I hear someone telling a story and at the end some appalled lady from across the table slams down her donut, and spits crumbs out of her mouth shouting, “and this was all over text message?”
Yeah, lady, it was.
Why is that a bad thing? Why does the text message have no value? Better question, how do phone calls have more value? I use my phone to call the doctor, schedule a Comcast appointment, or find a cab at 2 am. Real sentimental conversations. I hate phone calls. If I call you (that wouldn’t happen), but if you call me and I happen to answer, you should know that the entire time I’m either incredibly uncomfortable, reading Tumblr, cleaning the litter box or wondering what it would be like if I could jump really high, like 3 stories high. How is not paying attention to you, while simultaneously hating life, of higher value than a text message that I take the time to read and respond to? Sure, short 140 character messages maybe seem like nothing, and I see your very shallow argument supporting that. But when in history have we been able to carry on a conversation with someone no matter where they are (cell towers permitted) and what they’re doing? Never. Don’t give me the landline argument, and don’t give me the email argument, only until recently could we have our email pushed to our cell phones and landlines are landlines.
This is the first time in history we can be in such immediate contact with someone.
Would a textual message hold more value if I hand wrote it on paper and mailed it to you? Why? Why are we bringing fake nostalgia into this? I doubt anyone my age, or relatively close to my age, has ever, ever used postal mail as legitimate correspondence (no, your dog’s vet appointment reminder doesn’t count.) Since text messaging was first available (remember when it was only network to network?) I have been a fan. I have absolutely no problem dedicating my brief seconds of spare time throughout the day to talk to someone I care about talking to. Only now can someone dedicate so much of their life to talking to someone all day, every day. How is that of no value? Personal time is of great value. Phone calls are planned and placed at a designated time, while a text message can be at any time! The minute you think of someone you can tell them what is on your mind, if you miss someone at 3 in the morning, fuck it, tell them you miss them at 3 in the morning. A call requires effort on their part, and maybe I was raised wrong, but a “present” to someone shouldn’t require the recipient to have to go out of their way to enjoy it. Perhaps I just value my spare time more than others, but knowing that someone used their precious time to show me a cat they saw on the internet means more than a stupid phone call ever will.
At least several times a day, I find myself misplacing tone and intention. There are supposed to be clear boundaries here, and yet as different as the interactions are, the relative homogeneity of the interface is what dominates. If I lose focus, the human behind the chat window, or looming over the email-in-progress, drifts away. “I have long admired your publication” becomes “I love the stuff you guys are doing”; I use capitalization, and labor over word choice, in a chat about people who are dicks. I find myself replacing the stately italics with all-caps in a for-pay piece of writing. Exclamation points and emoticons crop up where there’s no guarantee the audience will get the irony behind them. We’ve all had the experience of typing in the wrong window; instead of mechanical errors, though, these are instances of bringing the wrong person to the window. It’s not just a question of voice, or mannerisms. There’s the relationship I project onto the conversation, and the part of me that’s implicated in it. Sometimes it’s as simple as business versus casual—although, I would argue that, as a result of Personality Seepage, these lines are becoming increasingly blurred, even in the abstract. More often, it’s about what side of personality I’m stressing, or concealing. I can be incredibly shy and polite, or a vindictive egomaniac. Same goes for over-serious and silly. We know who we are, maybe, but others rarely get the whole picture—or at least not the full range. The web aggravates this fragmentation.