Texting is a common medium of communication for most people. In fact, studies show 18.7 billion texts are sent every day, and the average person sends about 32 texts per day—with 18- to 24-year-olds sending quadruple that amount.
We Americans are particular text-savvy. The United States makes up only 4 percent of the world’s population, but sends almost half of the world’s texts.
Still, now that more and more people are texting more than they’re even talking, is this good for our relationships—personal and professional? While texting is convenient and common, there are some downsides. Here are a few.
People Are Texting Before Talking
Texting someone but not talking to them doesn’t apply to too many older adults past 30, but for the younger generations, this is definitely a thing.
While at a friend’s house this summer, I noticed her teenage daughter giggling and texting frantically. When I inquired about who she was texting, she responded with a boy’s name and another grin.
“So,” I asked in a motherly way, “When you see this boy in the halls at school do you speak to him? Do you hang out?” She looked at me cross-eyed. “Of course not! We don’t actually talk!” I looked at her mother confused, and we both shook our heads.
On average, teenagers send 128 texts per day. They often do this not after getting to know someone, but as a way to get to know someone. This is a very disingenuous way to get to know someone. People say things in writing they would not say in person—such is the faux security a screen seems to provide.
Behind a text message is a real person, and no matter how much two people send texts to each other, they’ll never get to know that person without that personal connection. People might scoff at the notion that talking on the phone is no different than texting, but it’s not true. A person’s idiosyncrasies and personality traits come through while talking or hanging out. These things often don’t translate via text message—especially if the person is a brand new acquaintance.
Texting is convenient but it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for real conversation.
Texts Can Be Misunderstood, Hurting Relationships
One of the pitfalls of texting is people sometimes treat text messages like they treat a relationship in general. There’s a “closeness” that exists even between a couple that’s a thousand miles apart. We tend to assume people never put their phone down. So when we send a text, we expect an immediate response. We think, “If we lived together, it wouldn’t take five minutes to answer a question.” At the same time, if the person we lived with wasn’t in the room, we wouldn’t ask the question until they were back in the same room.
When we communicate via text, we don’t have the luxury of knowing precisely where the other person is at every moment. This can create anxiety and neediness among some people. A 2018 Vice article described how “texting culture is giving all of us anxiety.” An American Psychology study said one-fifth of Americans associate their mobile devices with stress—24/7 availability plays a huge role in this stress.
Texting is a static medium. Even with emojis, emotion is often lost and a person reads a text the way they talk with their voice in their head, not the other person’s voice. People can’t see what a person is doing on the other side of the telephone. People can’t “hear” what other people are texting back.
On a phone call, people can often ascertain if the other party is kidding or being sarcastic in the midst of a conversation. In person, facial expressions and body language help people form a better understanding of what a person is attempting to convey. This is lost over text and often causes at least one party frustration, confusion, or even angst.
Everyone Has Different Texting Expectations
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a terrible texter. Sure, I go in spurts where I respond right away or have conversations with people, but often I read it (or don’t) and don’t respond for hours, even days. I admit it! Some of my friends and family don’t mind this. But for others, it bothers them. They feel slighted or ignored. Admittedly, there are a handful of people I text and when they don’t text me back, it really ticks me off. Why that is, I’m not sure. Does this mean some people are jerks and others aren’t? Are some people more glued to their phones than others?
A lot of this has to do with someone’s expectations of texting: If you’re the kind of person who responds right away, you likely want that in kind. However, there’s this growing assumption that because we all have cellphones, we’re all glued to them, and because you have my number, you have 24/7 access to me, my brain, and my plans. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly for introverts, who often screen calls and texts even from people they know and love.
A Pew study found that 70 percent of people said their smartphones offered them “freedom,” while 30 percent saw it as a “leash.” At the same time, however, a paper written by two Pace University psychologists found that most people see their phones as a sanctuary and a burden. On one hand, they felt more calm with it than without it, but at the same time, felt as though they had an obligation for communication that they took with them wherever they went.
We live in the age of “constant contact,” and the culture has created a dynamic where people get worried or concerned when a text is not answered within minutes. People assume everyone has time to check their phones because they always witness people looking at their phones. But life does go on—not everyone is glued to their phones. Meetings, meals, movies, and other social gatherings make for a time when people sometimes put their phones away. People do have to recognize that “in pocket” doesn’t mean “in touch.”
Men and Women Think—and Text—Differently
Recently, a friend of mine confided in me about a situation that had her in a quandary: She was regularly texting a love-interest and he didn’t text back right away, or sometimes even within days. But then he’d call her and talk for hours. What did it mean? Heck if I know. But I do know men and women text differently—studies have shown us that.
Men tend to use texting for logistics and as a way to answer and ask specific questions. What time are you arriving? Where are you? Should we meet at 6 p.m.? Women tend to text to be conversational. Occasionally, there’s some crossover—I tend to text in a less conversational format, and I’m sure some men talk more over text than normal.
My guy friends tell me men can be wary of texting, and there are particular things from which men have a tendency to pull back, especially in a newly formed friendship with a woman or a potential romantic interest. One thing that bugs guys? The way women plan over text.
Most guys are not, on Tuesday, planning where they will eat dinner on Saturday or where they plan to take a vacation. Guys typically live in the moment. When women ask men via text, “What are your plans for the day?” they might as well ask, “How do you split the atom?” Men have a generic plan in that they’ll get up, go to work (where they likely have a more detailed schedule, but women are not interested in that), and eat something. Beyond that, it’s all up in the air.
Additionally, men aren’t given to responding to text messages immediately, and the worst thing a woman can do is inundate a man with four to five text messages in a row, especially if he’s not responded to the first. If it’s not critically important, men tend to wait to respond to text messages, and flooding the zone doesn’t help.
Sure, texting is a convenient way to communicate—it’s saved me a lot of headaches. However, for a lot of people, texting is hurting rather than helping their relationships. In the end, communication should be about people, and texting should be a tool rather than a gauge of someone’s character, relationships, or personality traits.
Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.