Hi, my name is Michelle and I’ve been texting for ten years. I am an enthusiastic texter—complete with emoticons, purely for your enjoyment—and have heard everything from “you’re going to get carpal tunnel,” to “have you looked into getting that surgically attached?” And, for the record, I would not get my phone surgically attached only because I know Apple will come up with a new phone as soon as I make that kind of commitment.
I, like the 32% of the TIME Mobility Poll, would much rather send a text message than talk on the phone. Jeffrey Kluger, the author of “We Never Talk Any More: The Problem with Text Messaging,” agrees, “…I don’t want to talk to you on the phone,” he explains, “Nothing personal, I just can’t stand the thing.” Kluger describes phone calls as “intrusive and somehow presumptuous.” He is in agreement with Baym, the author of “Personal Connections in the Digital Age,” in the pervasive nature of the mobility of the telephone. Kluger feels as though the phone “sounds off insolently whenever it chooses and expects me to drop whatever I’m doing”—the feeling of anxiety Baym explains as stemming from the representation of “the paradigm case of mobility” (11).
Kluger gravely begins, “The telephone call is a dying institution.” And not without merit, as he has supporting statistics. The number of texts sent monthly within the U.S. increased to a staggering 188 billion in 2010, and most of those are, in part, thanks to the younger generation. Young Americans on average exchange approximately 88 text messages per day, as opposed to 17 phone calls and I am merely a part of the statistic. The author adds that even the older generation seems to be following this trend, as the ratio of text messaging to calling is 4.7 to 3.8.
Here, Jeff Kluger takes a technological deterministic view when he explains the concern behind the favored method of texting. In the article, Sherry Turkle, an MIT psychologist, argues that text messaging is detrimental to a child’s growth because conversation, meaning non-textual, teaches the kid to “have a conversation with themselves—to think and reason and self-reflect.” She describes text messaging to be a type of defense mechanism in which “The complexity and messiness of human communication gets shortchanged.”
How do they get shortchanged of the nitty-gritty of human interaction?
Judith Donath of “Sociable Media” explains the difference between unmediated communication, face-to-face, and mediated communication, anything from emails to telephone calls, with the abundance or lack of “cues.” Donath states the social cues—“words, tone of voice, gesture, clothing, facial expression, proximity”—provide information about the communicator, or the listener (1). She explains that we view language as means of exchanging information, but that as social creatures, “the participants are exchanging social information,” unknowingly (2). The article states that informational technologies are “often developed within the context of engineering and business” and efficiency and utility are “prized” but ultimately, people “quickly find social uses” (2). However, Klunger’s article seems to argue otherwise Turkle explains that without the practice of learning and interpreting the cues, the texting generation finds it difficult to understand and interact in the real world. Conversations over text take away valuable interaction skills the younger generation needs, as Turkle explains, the visual, verbal and physical cues are not available. Turkle states that kids have a “fear of conversation” and lists an example of an 18-year-old interviewee that said, “Someday… I want to learn to have a conversation.” In addition, adults take advantage of the efficiency and utility to “become conversation-avoidant.” Text messaging takes away the mandatory pleasantries of unmediated communication. Again, the text format allows for users to abuse it as a defense mechanism. Kluger describes the advantage of texting: in uncomfortable situations, “it’s less painful” and in addition, “You don’t have to fake an enthusiasm you’re not feeling.” The emotions involved in human communications are lessened, or completely void, which only further adds to the degree of separation technological mobility has introduced into our society.
Despite the blame placed on technology, Kluger offers an alternative in a form of “Social Shaping.” He recommends rotating the communication platform: “But mix it up some–maybe even throw in a little Skyping.” He explains that a separate medium can allow you to see and interact with another person–Kluger believes that it is a solution to Turkle’s concerns. However, as Baym still expresses concerns a different mediated communication is still inadequate as they “lack critical intimacy cues including touch and smell” (12). In the end, Kluger describes text messaging as “social shaping,” we have the ability to change technology. However, unmediated communication seems to be the only tried and true solution to mastering the art of conversation.