Clash of the Titans LXXXIX: Text Messages

August 29, 2008, 1:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Josh J, Steve  | 6 Comments

In this corner, opposing text messages, is Josh!

And in this corner, in favor of texts, is Steve!

Listen, I don’t hate texts, okay. And I’m not the parent in that cell phone ad that needs some smart aleck kid to show me how to send them. I actually enjoy receiving the occasional text, and rarely, when necessary or convenient, sending one. I’m willing to concede some usefulness. So calm those angry thumbs for a moment.

But here’s the thing: texts have become completely ubiquitous. They account for a ridiculous percentage of some people’s total communication. And they are not without their drawbacks.

First, there’s the cost. Many cell phone plans now offer an unlimited text option, which has at least helped to curtail the spiraling costs for those too oblivious to do so themselves. But this will still add a not insignificant fee to your monthly commitment. And for those not inclined to take this route, there will be a fee not only for texts they send, but also for those they receive, whether they want to hear from every clown in their address book or not.

I hear you. The cost is minimal. But the cost to the English language is catastrophic. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are all completely decimated. This so-called shorthand, first popularized in chat rooms and instant messages, is now pandemic, and an entire generation that spends so much time writing is — somehow — completely incapable of writing.

I get it. It’s hard to type on a phone, so shorthand is easier. I’m certainly no fan of pushing the same button up to three times to produce one letter: yet another reason I prefer to use my phone for talking. I like having actual conversations, raising the level of discourse somewhere above three letter quips and emoticons. I like actual human contact and real social interaction, yet I see people surrounded by readily ignored friends, heads down, thumbs blazing. No, thanks.

*click click click*

Oh, hi! I apologize — I was sending a text message to some of my friends, telling them the great news that Gov. Sarah Palin will be John McCain’s VP nominee! What a good example of the power of the text: rather than calling each of these people individually, possibly interrupting them, possibly being forced into making small talk we don’t have time for right now, instead I just typed out a little message (“Palin Palin Palin”), and viola! It was like my own little news broadcast!

What Lileks (I think; I can’t find the quote! I wish I’d texted myself) said is so true: text messaging is the closest thing we have to beaming thoughts directly into people’s heads. When my phone buzzes, I’m truly excited — there are all manner of interesting people in my contact list, and I can’t wait to see which one has fired a thought my way. Maybe an interesting observation, maybe a long-forgotten reference to a shared experience, maybe the continuation of a philosophical debate: whichever, whatever, I want to see it. I guess I’m sorry Josh’s friends are so boring.

Yet text messages are not intrusive (my phone never rings and I have an unlimited plan); if I’m busy, they wait. This is different from phone calls. Get a text and you can answer right away, wait, or let silence speak for you. Texts provide a combination of distance and familiarity that makes actual communication possible. There are no guarantees, no strings, no promises — just thoughts, beamed between minds.

I agree with Josh when it comes to “shorthand”; I hate it too. To me, the value of text messages doesn’t come just from their speed and utility (although my Qwerty keyboard is super-fast). No, I love how they combine the heft and clarity of the written word (like an email) with a natural limit, like a prose haiku! If you really want to communicate in a text, you have to seriously think about what you want to say and how best to say it. Something that helps us communicate better, faster, and more thoughtfully? Text me anytime!



6 Comments to “Clash of the Titans LXXXIX: Text Messages”

  1. Josh J on August 29th, 2008 3:35 pm

    The funniest part about your indictment of the entertainment value of my friends is the fact that you are easily the number one text sender – by volume – in my in box.

  2. Steve on August 29th, 2008 4:36 pm

    Yes, if the shoe fits, I put it on — and then I text you about it.

    That volume is still pretty low, though; maybe twice a month. If I want to communicate with you, I know to ride my pony into town and send a telegram via Western Union, and if’n the boys can get over the creek to deliver the mail to your parts this week or next, you’ll be sure to get back to me in a letter written by candlelight on parchment, sent postage due.

  3. David M. on September 2nd, 2008 12:28 pm

    Hey, I have to text Stephen and tell him he is winning…..

    Reading your comments is as fun as your clash.

  4. David on September 2nd, 2008 3:37 pm

    I went with Steve but I only get maybe 1 per week. I have a friend who gets/sends—no exaggeration—6,000 per month. I figured it out to be 222 per day or something like that. Ridiculous.

  5. Steve on September 2nd, 2008 3:58 pm

    I would text you, but for some reason I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that you have your phone through work.

  6. David on September 2nd, 2008 8:47 pm

    No, my phone is my own. I used to get reimbursed for it but not anymore. Text away!!!

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