We Never Talk Anymore: The Problem with Text Messaging

Texting is replacing the phone call as our preferred means of mobile conversation. But just because it's easier, faster and makes us less uncomfortable doesn't mean we should do it.

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You do not want to talk to me on the phone. How do I know? Because I don’t want to talk to you on the phone. Nothing personal, I just can’t stand the thing. I find it intrusive and somehow presumptuous. It sounds off insolently whenever it chooses and expects me to drop whatever I’m doing and, well, engage. With others! When I absolutely must, I take the call, but I don’t do a very good job of concealing my displeasure. A close family member once offered his opinion that I exhibit the phone manners of a goat, then promptly withdrew the charge — out of fairness to goats.

So it was with profound relief that I embraced the arrival of e-mail and, later, texting. They meant a conversation I could control — utterly. I get to say exactly what I want exactly when I want to say it. It consumes no more time than I want it to and, to a much greater degree than is possible with a phone call, I get to decide if it takes place at all. That might make me misanthropic. It surely makes me a crank. But it doesn’t make me unusual.

(Read about the TIME Mobility Poll here.)

The telephone call is a dying institution. The number of text messages sent monthly in the U.S. exploded from 14 billion in 2000 to 188 billion in 2010, according to a Pew Institute survey, and the trend shows no signs of abating. Not all of that growth has come out of the hide of old-fashioned phoning, but it is clearly taking a bite — particularly among the young.

Americans ages 18-29 send and receive an average of nearly 88 text messages per day, compared to 17 phone calls. The numbers change as we get older, with the overall frequency of all communication declining, but even in the 65 and over group, daily texting still edges calling 4.7 to 3.8. In the TIME mobility poll, 32% of all respondents said they’d rather communicate by text than phone, even with people they know very well. This is truer still in the workplace, where communication is between colleagues who are often not friends at all. “No more trying to find time to call and chit-chat,” is how one poll respondent described the business appeal of texting over talking.

The problem, of course, is what’s lost when that chit-chat goes. Developmental psychologists studying the impact of texting worry especially about young people, not just because kids are such promiscuous users of the technology, but because their interpersonal skills — such as they are — have not yet fully formed. Most adults were fixed social quantities when they first got their hands on a text-capable mobile device, and while their ability to have a face-to-face conversation may have eroded in recent years, it’s pretty well locked in. Not so with teens. As TIME has reported previously, MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle is one of the leading researchers looking into the effects of texting on interpersonal development. Turkle believes that having a conversation with another person teaches kids to, in effect, have a conversation with themselves — to think and reason and self-reflect. “That particular skill is a bedrock of development,” she told me.

Turkle cites the texted apology — or what she calls “saying ‘I’m sorry’ and hitting send” — as a vivid example of what’s lost when we type instead of speak. “A full-scale apology means I know I’ve hurt you, I get to see that in your eyes,” she says. “You get to see that I’m uncomfortable, and with that, the compassion response kicks in. There are many steps and they’re all bypassed when we text.” When the apology takes place over the phone rather than in person, the visual cues are lost, of course, but the voice — and the sense of hurt and contrition it can convey — is preserved.

Part of the appeal of texting in these situations is that it’s less painful — but the pain is the point. “The complexity and messiness of human communication gets shortchanged,” Turkle says. “Those things are what lead to better relationships.”

Habitual texters may not only cheat their existing relationships, they can also limit their ability to form future ones since they don’t get to practice the art of interpreting nonverbal visual cues. There’s a reason it’s so easy to lie to small kids (“Santa really, truly did bring those presents”) and that’s because they’re functional illiterates when it comes to reading inflection and facial expressions. As with real reading, the ability to comprehend subtlety and complexity comes only with time and a lot of experience. If you don’t adequately acquire those skills, moving out into the real world of real people can actually become quite scary. “I talk to kids and they describe their fear of conversation,” says Turkle. “An 18-year-old I interviewed recently said, ‘Someday, but certainly not now, I want to learn to have a conversation.’”

Adults are much less likely to be so conversation-phobic, but they do become conversation-avoidant — mostly because it’s easier. Texting an obligatory birthday greeting means you don’t have to fake an enthusiasm you’re not really feeling. Texting a friend to see what time a party starts means you don’t also have to ask “How are you?” and, worse, get an answer.

The text message is clearly here to stay and even the most zealous phone partisans don’t recommend avoiding it entirely. But mix it up some — maybe even throw in a little Skyping or Facetime so that when you finally do make a call you’re actually seeing and interacting with another person. Too much texting, Turkle warns, amounts to a life of “hiding in plain sight.”

And the thing about hiding is, it keeps you entirely alone.

MORE: Read TIME’s special report on how your phone is changing the world (and your life) here.

12 comments
hellsop
hellsop

An average of 17 calls per day? How many of those were "Rachel, from Credit Card Services"? I make .. like... one.

jilldodsonstudio
jilldodsonstudio

I couldn't agree more with the writer and want to ad that , in my life, the loss of phone calls and face to face conversation has made me less motivated to joke around and have the fun i used to give and receive with joking, clowning around and using my sense of humor to have a great time with my fun friends., In electronic text, there is no magic, no audible laughter, no smiles, cackles, cracking up and teasing for fun, with lively,  back and forth banter. BUT, not online there isn't. Not like in person for sure. Think. Do great entertainers do their craft in written form? NO. Now, instead of online boredom, I prefer to go out and about running errands interacting in person with people out there anywhere,  in stores, waiters, cabbies, Whoever I meet out there and  I see face to face. We have a truly great time, But we are strangers and they are busy and going somewhere or working in customer service, so, sadly we then just  go our separate ways and then I'm isolated again because I work at home and  live alone for now. As for the computerized interactions...there is no feedback, no laughter, not as much input, NO real fun!!!! It's boring and just a chore, mostly to type out dry stuff, surface stuff,  Also, since things online do not have as much confidentiality online, I share hardly anything personal now or of much real substance or entertainment value like I would if I was speaking to a friend or friends in private. It stays dry and safe and no juicy stuff comes out on the internet from me!! Also,  I used to talk more about stuff that was more , heartfelt, interesting,  important, in depth.. But now it just remains brief, boring and  safe... just a "news weather and sports" like report. (If I even bother at all). Written electronic communication are mostly a  load of superficial stuff to me without the inflections in the tone of voices or the spontaneity, the vocal inflections, reactions, body language, those telling, great reactions that I used give and to see and hear. These would even build up a back and forth in a snowball effect of energetic, lively, intriguing interactions that were so filled with meaning, interest, entertainment, feeling,  sincerity, a much, much deeper understanding and connection that was so satisfying., etc. But with typed junk, and with only reading other's words,  is missing too much. It's so deathly dry compared to audio visual interaction.. Can you imagine great classic movies just read with no acted out scenes? Like you're just reading the bare bones movie script instead of watching a good movie. I bet Gone with the Wind and other major films would have really been immediately gone with the wind if all Hollywood had only  put out on  the big silver screen the script alone... Just a written dialog with no picture, a good acting, sounds, music, or action. NO inflection in the great actors, voices; no great expressions and lacking the perfect timing or expression/inflection  for those classic  great lines. I know the line "by Clark Gable as  Rett Butler in Gone with the Wind, "Well Scarlet, I don't give a Damn" would have been a gigantic world wide sensation if they only projected  Clark Gable's written script. If the written word is so superior, then why are all of you still watching blockbuster movies rather than reading books???? Books are dying.Does't that say something about what is being written and not spoken or visually portrayed by you ?  me even a corny old A silent movie is more exciting than a non-visual electronic text form social interchange...  So now my electronic social life is so devoid of those great sparks that used to stay alive inside me or in person and then emanate from me and my friends while phone chatting with good friends . Plus there are less great social events, like parties, practical jokes, flirting, etc, etc.....  I hate typing this right now  too. With out speech It;s just a chore, like typing the answer to an essay question on an exam.YUK!!!! If I could say it it would feel so much better. And how about your feeling reading all this rater that hearing it??? Boring I'll bet compared to seeing it on a talk show. And there is, No chance for back and forth comments or question from you. You get to give little input from yourself, so it's like  lecture. I know that when I do speak in public, we both like it, they respond, we connect and we get energized and have a lively, very satisfying back and forth interchange. There is brainstorming, anecdotes that are hilarious that spring from most any topic. IT'S FUN AND EXCITING!!! But  I bet you hate reading all of this...I would. You probably couldn't even concentrate on this  to get to this point, because reading is just plain a drag compared to a great, lively conversation  Compared to what in person or phone calls can be, To me typing and reading too dry.  AND so is Social Networking !!!!!!! I hate it compared to real life connections. It's like trying to enjoy social dancing lying down in a room by yourself with no music or rhythm. And by the way, during good conversations, you can break out some music, l dance, sing and be very Fun or romantic...or your partner might  do so.. Then there is the added fun,  romance, life, fulfillment and happiness...and for FREE, too. I wish I was born before the computer age ever would have happened in my lifetime when it comes to a social life in my opinion.


Read more: We Never Talk Anymore: The Problem with Text Messaging | TIME.com http://techland.time.com/2012/08/16/we-never-talk-anymore-the-problem-with-text-messaging/#ixzz2rbkgNMT5

jilldodsonstudio
jilldodsonstudio

I couldn't agree more with the writer and want to ad that , in my life, the loss of phone calls and face to face conversation has made me less motivated to joke around and have the fun i used to give and receive with joking, clowning around and using my sense of humor to have a great time with my fun friends., In electronic text, there is no magic, no audible laughter, no smiles, cackles, cracking up and teasing for fun, with lively,  back and forth banter. BUT, not online there isn't. Not like in person for sure. Think. Do great entertainers do their craft in written form? NO. Now, instead of online boredom, I prefer to go out and about running errands interacting in person with people out there anywhere,  in stores, waiters, cabbies, Whoever I meet out there and  I see face to face. We have a truly great time, But we are strangers and they are busy and going somewhere or working in customer service, so, sadly we then just  go our separate ways and then I'm isolated again because I work at home and  live alone for now. As for the computerized interactions...there is no feedback, no laughter, not as much input, NO real fun!!!! It's boring and just a chore, mostly to type out dry stuff, surface stuff,  Also, since things online do not have as much confidentiality online, I share hardly anything personal now or of much real substance or entertainment value like I would if I was speaking to a friend or friends in private. It stays dry and safe and no juicy stuff comes out on the internet from me!! Also,  I used to talk more about stuff that was more , heartfelt, interesting,  important, in depth.. But now it just remains brief, boring and  safe... just a "news weather and sports" like report. (If I even bother at all). Written electronic communication are mostly a  load of superficial stuff to me without the inflections in the tone of voices or the spontaneity, the vocal inflections, reactions, body language, those telling, great reactions that I used give and to see and hear. These would even build up a back and forth in a snowball effect of energetic, lively, intriguing interactions that were so filled with meaning, interest, entertainment, feeling,  sincerity, a much, much deeper understanding and connection that was so satisfying., etc. But with typed junk, and with only reading other's words,  is missing too much. It's so deathly dry compared to audio visual interaction.. Can you imagine great classic movies just read with no acted out scenes? Like you're just reading the bare bones movie script instead of watching a good movie. I bet Gone with the Wind and other major films would have really been immediately gone with the wind if all Hollywood had only  put out on  the big silver screen the script alone... Just a written dialog with no picture, a good acting, sounds, music, or action. NO inflection in the great actors, voices; no great expressions tand lacking the perfect timing or expression/inflection  for those classic  great lines. I know the line "by Clark Gable as  Rett Butler in Gone with the Wind, "Well Scarlet, I don't give a Damn" would have been a gigantic world wide sensation if they only projected  Clark Gable's written script. If the written word is so superior, then why are all of you still watching blockbuster movies rather than reading books???? Books are dying.Does't that say something about what is being written and not spoken or visually portrayed by you ?  me even a corny old A silent movie is more exciting than a non-visual electronic text form social interchange...  So now my electronic social life is so devoid of those great sparks that used to stay alive inside me or in person and then emanate from me and my friends while phone chatting with good friends . Plus there are less great social events, like parties, practical jokes, flirting, etc, etc.....  I hate typing this right now  too. With out speech It;s just a chore, like typing the answer to an essay question on an exam.YUK!!!! If I could say it it would feel so much better. And how about your feeling reading all this rater that hearing it??? Boring I'll bet compared to seeing it on a talk show. And the, No chance for back and forth comments or question from you. You get to give little input from yourself, so it's like  lecture. I know that when I do speak in public, we both like it, they respond, we connect and we get energized and have a lively, very satisfying back and forth interchange. There is brainstorming, anecdotes that are hilarious that spring from most any topic. IT'S FUN AND EXCITING!!! But  I bet you hate reading all of this...I would. You probably couldn't even concentrate to get to this point, because reading is just plain a drag comparing to a great,l lively conversation.  Typing and reading are  a drag.  AND So is Social networking !!!!!!! I hate it compared to real life connections. It's like trying to enjoy social dancing lying down in a room by yourself with no music or rhythm. And by the way, During conversation, you can break out some music,l dance, sing and be very romantic...or your partner might. Then there is romance, life, fulfillment and happiness...for free, too. I wish I was born before the computer age ever would have happened in my lifetime when it comes to a social life in my opinion.

hazhap1
hazhap1

This story is a wild freak-out of opinion, and leads me to question the authors ability to rationalize. 

SweetieClimber
SweetieClimber

I completely agree with the writer about his opinions. Yes! Because of the advanced technology, almost

no one nowadays can live without electric gadgets such as computers and

cellphones. And provided with diverse ways ,like emailing or texting, to

communicate with others, people tend to be much more silent than ever

before. Most of them, especially the young, feel more comfortable when

communicating by typing words rather than by having a small talk with others face to face.

In such case, I'm afraid that people in the society will become less

indifferent about communication and the maintanence of relationships

which is an indispensable element in our life. And, here I wanna give you (if you are one of those preferring communication through wireless device) a

small suggestion that you should go out more to make friends, breathe

some fresh air, take more activities you are interested in, and, most importantly and if possible, stay away from

your petite electric gadget for a little while in order to explore more about

the real world where you are now! And, trust me: after you do that, you will feel more curious about the amazing world and will lead a life much more enjoyable even if you are under much pressure!

Have a nice day, guys!

SweetieClimber
SweetieClimber

I completely agree with the writer about his opinions. Yes! Because of the advanced technology, almost

no one nowadays can live without electric gadgets such as computers and

cellphones. And provided with diverse ways ,like emailing or texting, to

communicate with others, people tend to be much more silent than ever

before. Most of them, especially the young, feel more comfortable when

communicating by typing words rather than by having a small talk with others face to face.

In such case, I'm afraid that people in the society will become more

indifferent about communication and the maintainece of relationships

which is an indispensable element in our life. And, here I wanna give you a

small suggestion that you should go out more to socialize with friends, breathe

some fresh air, take more activities you are interested in, and, most importantly, stay away from

your petite electric gadget for a while in order to explore more about

the real world where you are now! And, trust me: after you do that, you will feel more curious about the amazing world and will lead a enjoyable life even if you are under much pressure!

SweetieClimber
SweetieClimber

I completely agree with the writer about his opinions. Yes! Because of the advanced technology, almost

no one nowadays can live without electric gadgets such as computers and

cellphones. And provided with diverse ways ,like emailing or texting, to

communicate with others, people tend to be much more silent than ever

before. Most of them, especially the young, feel more comfortable when

communicating by typing words rather than by having a small talk with others face to face.

In such case, I'm afraid that people in the society will become less

indifferent about communication and the maintainece of relationships

which is an indispensable element in our life. And, here I wanna give a

small suggestion that you should go out more to make friends, breathe

some fresh air, take more activities you are interested in, and, most importantly, stay away from

your petite electric gadget for a while in order to explore more about

the real world where you are now! And, trust me: after you do that, you will feel more curious about the amazing world and will lead a enjoyable life even if you are under much pressure!

SweetieClimber
SweetieClimber

I completely agree with the writer about his opinions. Yes! Because of the advanced technology, almost

no one nowadays can live without electric gadgets such as computers and

cellphones. And provided with diverse ways ,like emailing or texting, to

communicate with others, people tend to be much more silent than ever

before. Most of them, especially the young, feel more comfortable when

communicating by typing words rather than by having a small talk with others face to face.

In such case, I'm afraid that people in the society will become less

indifferent about communication and the maintainece of relationships

which is an indispensable element in our life. And, here I wanna give a

small suggestion that you should go out more to make friends, breathe

some fresh air, take more activities you are interested in, and, most importantly, stay away from

your petite electric gadget for a while in order to explore more about

the real world where you are now! And, trust me: after you do that, you will feel more curious about the amazing world and will lead a enjoyable life even if you are under much pressure!

SweetieClimber
SweetieClimber

 I completely agree with the writer about his opinions. Yes! Because of the advanced technology, almost no one nowadays can live without electric gadgets such as computers and cellphones. And provided with diverse ways ,like emailing or texting, to communicate with others, people tend to be much more silent than ever before. Most of them, especially the young, feel more comfortable when communicating by typing words rather than by having a small talk with others face to face. In such case, I'm afraid that people in the society will become less indifferent about communication and the maintainece of relationships which is an indispensable element in our life. And, here I wanna give a small suggestion that you should go out more to make friends, breathe some fresh air, take more activities you are interested in, and, most importantly, stay away from your petite electric gadget for a while in order to explore more about the real world where you are now! And, trust me: after you do that, you will feel more curious about the amazing world and will lead a enjoyable life even if you are under much pressure!