Last week, a girlfriend and I spent thirty minutes trying to decipher a cryptic text message she had received. The text message read, “Hmm.” As our taxi buzzed its way down the Westside highway, we huddled over the illuminating aura of the cell phone light, wondering what the message could mean. She had invited the guy she’d gone out with a few times to go to the beach with her the next day. It seemed like a no brainer—pretty girl, cute bikini, beautiful day, and beach time. After thirty minutes of discussing the text’s implications, and another fifteen discussing her response to such a message, we couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Only in the texting world could a grown man get away with a three-letter half-word and half-mumbled response. My friend found herself stuck in a text-only relationship, and if she had only called him, (or he her), he never would have held her in limbo for thirty minutes with that paralyzing “hmm”.
Many of us experience this type of warped communication. We live in a world of constant electronic interactions filled with notifications, emails, texts, tweets, pings, and rings, and these things are supposed to make us more connected. But is this what is being accomplished? My friend certainly wouldn’t say so. More importantly, if it is not better interaction that we are achieving, what can we change in order to improve our communication?
Much has been written about the follies and woes of today’s electronic communication age, but most of what I have seen seems to take an extreme stance to one side or the other on the techno-spectrum. Some call for a complete purging of all electronic communication; throw out the smart phones, out with computers, down with Twitter! Others see the social and technological shift as unavoidable, claiming that we should embrace the inevitable progression into the electronic age and jump into the e-world. But rather than blaming the technological advances, assuming that it is keyboards and computer screens that have changed us with their evil robo-ways, isn’t it reasonable to look at how we have changed ourselves in response to these devices? After all, we still have our free will while the computers only have free disk space, and it seems to me that it is an injustice to human creativity and capacity to claim that we have fallen victim to the technology that we have ourselves created.
Whether or not one agrees that it is the fault of Droids, iPhones or other electronics, the fault of their owners and users, or perhaps that there is no “fault” to be dealt at all, there is no doubt that writing styles and communication have changed. When we read an email or text message, we do not hear the intonations, see the visual cues, or read the speech patterns of the other person. Maybe the guy who wrote “Hmm” in response to my friend’s beach invitation was too busy to write a comprehensive response because he was watching a muted Jersey Shore episode while talking with his mother. Maybe he was out with friends at a bar, or perhaps he was uninterested in going to the beach all together; maybe at eight years old he had a bad experience on Brighton Beach, where he ate a bad portion of his neighbor’s stroganoff and later overheated as he encountered his disagreeable meal once more as it was headed in the opposite direction than when he ate it. The point is, no one would know from his text.
The technical hiccups of texting aside, it shouldn’t be ignored we have the ability to text message to let someone know where we are, send a quick instant message to someone who is working. Aside from the more recent revolution of Internet connection, the beauty and value of writing novels, essays, epics and poems that have existed for thousands of years cannot be ignored. Mark Twain once wrote, “We write frankly and fearlessly but then we ‘modify’ before we print.” The words we write are written are read, rewritten, reread and critiqued, and it is ultimately this revisionist method of writing that leads us to convey deeply personal thoughts while simultaneously learning about ourselves. When internalized personal thoughts are made accessible to the external world, communication is at its best.
In short, both texts and verbal communication have their benefits. The communication calamity arises when short texts and blurbs begin to completely substitute for verbal conversation. Text should be a supplement to conversations had at lunches with friends or phone conversations with loved ones, not confusing puzzles to piece apart and decipher intentions without the verbal and personal conversation to clarify it all. Writing of all kinds is a beautiful thing, as is verbal communication. Both forms have their ups and downs, and neither should be neglected nor glorified. Finding a balance between the written and the spoken word might be a difficult task for some who are born into the tech-world, but it is a worthwhile effort as we all are looking for human connection.