I don’t own a cell phone. My fiancee does, and I use it if I need it, but I rarely do. I have my laptop and internet for mostly everything most people use their phone for, with the benefit of a much larger display and a full-sized keyboard. That being said, I’ve owned phones before, and I’ve sent tens of thousands of text messages.
And now I occasionally talk to people my age online or younger that have an interesting conversational disability. I say it’s a disability, because it is disabling their ability to properly communicate. Word choice is simple and inexpressive, allowing messages — especially written — be easily misinterpreted, with graphics created from punctuation marks used to convey emotions among a limited range of choices (yes, that was probably the wordiest explanation of emoticons ever).
They also don’t seem to be able, sometimes, to have thoughts or expressions of thoughts that last more than the 160-character text and Twitter messaging limit. It’s fine to communicate that way, especially socially. Unfortunately, when it comes to more in-depth conversation, that character limit is wrecking vocabulary and attention span.
An ex girlfriend of mine and I aren’t on very good terms, and while that’s not unusual, the reason is: part of the reason that her and I broke up is that I “wrote too much” when it came to texting, messaging, or whatever. She also complained that I used too many “big” , words. Yes, petty and silly. She was 16 at the time, I was 17, and she was upset that I was well-read and can easily express myself verbally.
I don’t mean that I talk too much and she was just quiet. First of all, she was anything but — it’s just that most of her communication seemed to be limited to 160 characters, even when in face-to-face conversation. She was a conversational hummingbird, flitting from subject to subject and only scratching the surface. In my opinion, this is a growing trend among people that use that type of messaging as their main exposure to human communication.
It’s a barrier to deep communication. Social media concentrates on images because people seem to prefer them, but that’s just further evidence of our tendency to overindulge. It seems like images, being easy to see, understand, and share, are the fast food of human interaction. I’m not complaining about memes. I’m not ashamed to admit that I read a few hundred of them a day, and obviously I use them myself as well. They’re useful in the right context. But if you really want to reach out and connect to people, you have to speak or write, listen or read.
We’ve evolved brains that can handle hundreds of thousands of different words with unique meanings, and assign them to the right context and use to communicate any idea to any person that speaks the same language. Any idea. Thoughts about how the universe was created, about whether god exists and in which form, about our hopes and dreams, fears and loves, and the deepest passions that we experience. We can share each other’s lives, make each other laugh, cry, and bond all through the use of words.
For some kids growing up right now, texting may literally be their main method of talking to their peers. And 160 characters isn’t enough.