Texting is the fat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free version of communication. All the stuff that makes it worthwhile has been removed; all the delightful, nurturing and tasty parts are depleted.
Even if I might well be the last one to admit it out loud, I’m willing to put it in writing: I loathe texting.
Starting in 2007, Americans sent and received more text messages per month than phone calls. I must’ve been out of town because I didn’t get that memo, or perhaps the memo was sent by text and I didn’t read it. And I’m not ending that sentence with an image of a weeping unicorn, either, because I’m not apologizing.
I have friends who rely on texting, and for them it’s great: If they have little kids or spend a lot of time waiting for public transportation, it helps them stay sane.
Yet texting still seems to be best suited for those in business, those in trouble and those in affairs. And perhaps its most nefarious use is that of masking the trivial as the urgent and camouflaging the insignificant as the worthwhile.
Texting allows you to feel pious about being preoccupied with an immediate task while ignoring more complex and essential projects and goals. By encouraging people to react immediately instead of deciding how to respond thoughtfully, it’s more of a distraction than a useful interaction.
Words have weight and heft; they are our intellectual and emotional currency. Texting seems to bankrupt the exchange, reducing language to small change jingling in a pocket, making noise out of habit and driving thought away.
We’re losing those small, intellectually tented spaces provided by quietness and privacy that keep us apart from other people when we’re in public.
Also unnerving is the fact that texting permits people to feel as if they’re not alone when indeed they are. Knowing how to be alone is a crucial skill, just as knowing that not every moment is urgent is an important realization.
Learning “object permanence,” which psychologists define as understanding that just because you don’t experience something doesn’t mean it has disappeared, was once believed to have occurred in infancy. It now occurs the first time a 26-year-old can’t charge her smartphone’s battery.
Learning how to wait, how to calm oneself and how not to be frantic when you’re not connected to another human being is what it means to be a grown-up.
Some folks text because it makes them feel more in control, but maybe always being in control is not how you should feel. Maybe that’s what needs to be addressed: The illusion of being in control doesn’t actually translate into having an effect on the universe.
Texting is what you do to seem, to yourself and others, far too busy to do whatever it is that you should be doing.
And when that thing you should be doing is talking to the person whose presence you are actually in, but instead you’re texting somebody else who isn’t there? That’s like holding hands with the best man behind the groom’s back. No matter what excuses get thrown around later, it’s just not right.
Here’s the worst part of it: I do text. Some things you do in order to make life tidier. I don’t exactly enjoy cleaning out the kitty litter, either, but I do because to make life bearable you have to keep up with things. The same goes for texting.
And I’ve probably come to loathe it because I usually text when I am apologizing. I text when I’ve screwed up: “Sorry! I’m running a little late!” “Sorry, I can’t make today’s meeting!” “Oops! Can we reschedule that appointment, please?”
I disguise my cowardice and failure with the thinnest veneer of fake politeness and, cringing at my own hypocrisy, I feel as if I should do the tech equivalent of washing my mouth out with soap. Maybe that’s why hand-sanitizers have become ubiquitous: We’re trying to wipe away the slimy evasiveness of practiced insincerity.
Not having to hear the impatience, frustration or disappointment in someone’s voice makes it easier to forgive yourself. If you don’t pick up the phone, it’s easier to let yourself off the hook.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com