Friday, 27 May 2011

Text Wars

I’m considering boycotting text messaging. It is yet another potential situation for embarrassment, confusion and generally doing the wrong thing. Especially since this skattiness I seem to have acquired since the onset of motherhood.

I remember when text messages and mobiles (‘mobile’ being used in the loosest sense of the word, given that you needed a wheelie bag to cart the thing around such was it’s size and weight. Yes, I’m that old) came out, you only got about 59 characters, and you couldn’t run onto more than one text. That was when text speak was actually necessary. These days some of my texts are so epic that they regularly run into over ten texts, at which point my phone decides it’s a picture message and therefore not part of my inclusive text allowance. Hence why, despite having unlimited texts, my mobile bill is usually more than the contracted amount. Shhhh, don’t tell the man.

It has become the norm to text rather than ring someone, even though, in the long run, texting doesn’t save any time. My best friend and I used to talk for hours a day on the phone, and since we have become busier we have started texting. A lot. But this is actually a totally false economy. I can do pretty much anything with the phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, but I can’t text and do something at the same time. It takes a lot more coordination to text someone, not only in finger movements but also thinking about what to put so it comes out right. I could probably save myself a good hour or so a day if we rang each other instead.

If you’re not careful text messaging can be pretty ambiguous. Because they are designed to be fast and efficient, it is very easy to come across clipped or overly abrupt. Using short sentences and words which would be frankly rude in every day conversation seems to be acceptable in a text message. And to get emotion or emphasis, apart from a simple smiley, wink, sad face or tongue out :-p there isn’t a lot you can do. We can say something verbally and just with our intonation the receiver knows you are joking, text messages not so much. It’s that age old situation “it’s not what you said, it’s the way you said it.” It’s so easy to read too much into a simple one sentence text, more angst and confusion caused by the “but what did they actually mean by that?” internal debate. A misplaced ellipsis, capital letters (SHOUTING) too long, too short, could all spell out double meaning or vagueness. The simple answer is to pick up the phone and find out. Slightly missing the point of texting in the first place.

Besides, you can’t ring someone at 3 o’clock in the morning. Texting is a lot more socially acceptable after hours.

Then there’s the signing off debate. 98% of the time putting a kiss at the end of your text message is kind of law, it’s expected and, I often feel, rude not to. But sometimes putting a kiss at the end seems highly inappropriate. However it feels a bit abrupt to not put a kiss. So texting takes even longer while you deliberate whether or not the recipient would consider it rude or unfriendly not to punctuate the text message with a kiss. As I don’t tend to text in a professional capacity I don’t really know what the form is (although this situation has started to come up a bit recently when texting people for quotes for articles), so I end up putting an awkward little smiley. Not quite the same but seems to ‘friendly it up’ a bit, and I just find it physically impossible not to sign off in some way. And if you do decide to put a kiss, how many? In capitals? It’s so easy to come across overly familiar. It’s the whole social kissing thing all over again.

Then there’s the ease with which you can accidentally send a text to the wrong person. Soon after having son number 2, I sent a long and incredibly graphic text message about certain ‘issues’ I was going to see the doctor about that day. Immediately after sending it I realised that I had sent it to a guy I had gone to school with, seen in a pub about five years previously and swapped numbers (and then had never got in touch), instead of my mum as I had intended it. Thankfully he was a gentleman about it and never replied, but the embarrassment and mortification lives on, and will do forever more. Needless to say I now check, and double check, the recipient before hitting send. The possibilities for embarrassment are endless, especially with sexy texting, or having a secret bitch about someone. Whoops, sent it to my boss instead of my best friend or the man. Explain your way out of that one using text speak.

But texting can be pretty exciting. That beep beep or BRRRRING noise which announces the arrival of a text gives that same feeling of excitement as when you hear the thud of the post on the mat and you receive and unexpected and un-bill-like looking letter through the post... Ooh who could be texting me? And what do they want? Enthusiasm only dampened when it’s a boring message from your operator saying your bill is ready to view (does anyone actually view it?) or saying coverage will be disrupted in your area while they attempt to improve services (never seems to make any difference to me).

On the face of it, texting is a great and convenient way to communicate but in reality it is just another way of confusing our already busy and complicated lives. Multitasking has become the norm. Bring back the phone, I say. Those big old rotary ones which had one, perfectly acceptable and satisfying, ring tone that could be heard next door, and nice comfortable finger holes for dialling the numbers. Apart from the odd doodle or getting tangled up in the curly cord (totally cutting the circulation to your finger tips off because you were coming up with a new way of curling it round your fingers, wouldn’t be allowed today because of health and safety issues) you had to actually concentrate on the person you were talking to, and therefore the scope for confusion and embarrassment were much diminished. And you had to sit down. They were simpler, safer, times.

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