Ding! Removing your gaze from your textbook, you pick up your phone and begin reading your text. Your mind is boggled, trying to decrypt the meanings that lie underneath the message. The string of emojis that follows the three-worded text certainly doesn’t help. Is she being sarcastic? Is she angry? Am I reading too much into this?
In the past, phones were simply used just as a mode of communication. Now, we can call, text, use the internet, pay our bills, play games, do homework, etc. Because our phones have so many functions, our messages may not be a priority, allowing us to put little thought into what we are saying.
Even receiving a reply to a simple “How are you?” can be hard to understand. If someone texts “Okay,” you don’t really know how genuine they are. If they reply: “Great,” you don’t know if they are being sarcastic or not. It’s almost as if messages get lost in translation – even though you’re speaking the same language!
Sometimes it can be difficult to understand the meanings behind text messages because, in the moment, you don’t really know what the person at the other end of the conversation is feeling or thinking. There is no facial expression, no body language, no tension to get a feel of the atmosphere of the conversation. The only way you can judge how the other is feeling is by looking at the screen with the message on it. Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., wrote in Psychology Today that text messages are inherently incomplete and lack contextual information. It’s up to the reader to decode the information.
Texting undermines people’s emotions because people dumb down their messages and add in emojis to do the job that words do: convey emotions. People don’t seem to put much effort into what they write to others. Because texting has become so commonly used and convenient, quick responses have become the norm. The use of emojis and acronyms have made this even easier. No more semicolons and closed parenthesis to show a “winking face.” People had to type a bunch of keys to get a simple “smiley face” in a text message, but now we have over 2,000 different emojis. Young adults also use various shorthands to text, such as “hbu?” to express “how about you?”
The use of emojis in text messages makes them less personalized. People put less thought into what they are texting because they seem to think that little images can replace words. For example, the word “ok” has been replaced by a “thumbs up” or a “smiley face.” In contrast, texting allows us to hide our emotions, which we can’t do when talking over the phone or in person. A change in tone can reveal a lot about how we’re feeling. We can stutter or hesitate when talking to others, but with texting we can’t. We can take all the time we need to reply and decide what we want to express to others. People are able to deceive others because they are hidden behind a screen, making it tougher for the receiver to understand the message they got.
Do we see more people chatting away with a phone pressed to their ear or more people tapping their phones at the speed of light? The latter seems to be more ubiquitous. Teens use texting as their first option and, sometimes, only mode of communication unless it’s urgent. According to Pew Research, cell phone owners ages 18 to 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day. Also, 55 percent of people who send or receive more than 51 texts per day report preferring them to phone calls. People seem to be having less and less conversations over the phone. Teens and young adults seem to think that phone calls are a last resort, making calls awkward and inconvenient because they require time and your undivided attention.
As a person who doesn’t use her phone much, I prefer phone calls. I remember calling one of my friends to help her with a homework assignment. She was so weirded out by the fact that I was calling instead of simply texting her because, “No one does that anymore!” I also call all my cousins and friends to give them personalized birthday messages. They find it special because I am the only one who doesn’t just send them a text message with a cake and balloon emoji.
This affects our society because we begin to care less about what our friends, family and acquaintances are feeling or thinking, making us more ignorant and closed off. In The Psychology of Cyberspace, John Suler wrote, “For some the lack of physical presence may reduce the sense of intimacy, trust, and commitment in the therapeutic relationship. Typed text may feel formal, distant, unemotional, lacking a supportive and empathic tone.” By putting less thought into our messages, we choose to be mediocre in the things we say. If you are talking to a person face to face, you will, most likely, be more attentive and aware of your responses than you are when you reply to a text message. We would all benefit from more face-to-face communication because we would have a better understanding of one another. By giving people our undivided attention, we show that we care about what they have to say and how they are saying it.