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Are You an Expert Texter?

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Woman with worried look reading a text message on a smartphone

Getty/nicoletaionescu

“Texting lies somewhere between pictographs and contactless telepathy. But do its benefits drive us farther apart?”

I'm not.

I'm too slow, too scared, and I say way too much.

Texting expertly requires many talents, merged: eloquence, intuition, empathy, dexterity, confidence, trust and lightning speed.

It requires knowing what to tell a certain individual within a certain micro-moment: streamlined, short, and sharp.

You can't drone on and on, as I do. Damn.

People who grew up texting do it as lithely as sharks swim in the sea. But I grew up pre-social media. I grew up when the sole recourse for real-time dialogue was talking, which even on phones felt weird because, without eye contact, who knows whether words and vocal tones hold true? 

One wonders: Is she sighing “how sa-a-a-ad” while smiling cheerily? Is he crooning, “I cannot think of anything but you” while avidly watching TV?

But texting withholds every clue. Sure, as an introvert I love the isolation it affords. And yes, texting is awesome for the lost and shipwrecked. But what happens between us when we make the electronic intimate?

 Texting lies somewhere between pictographs and contactless telepathy. But do its benefits drive us farther apart?

 Stuck in the past, I tap-tap-tap trying to get it right, asking each question that crosses my mind because surely this proves how much I care—then add an anecdote, correctly punctuate a joke.

 Then after clicking send, I see my text for what it was: distended and dangly like something drowned, literally thrust into the hands of its recipient who must now choose: Reply in kind, politely sustaining the antiquated, bloated back-and-forth however long it lasts and however much this means they will miss? Or reply briefly, with a single word or acronym?

Heh.

Lol.

Or not at all? 

I sense them squeezing their eyes shut. I sense them straining to escape. Those hopeful tentacles I extend, aiming for connections, flail in midair swollen, spurting, spent.

What do we text to sick friends fearing for their lives? What do we text to those losing or finding love? When we can neither call nor visit nor send mixtapes? How R U?

Do my too-long texts make me The Unwelcome Friend, a name no one wants on their screens, as if I had glued shut their windows or wolfed their entire wedding cakes?

Texting is private— silent! instant!—yet also potentially public and permanent. Whatever you type in this micro-moment to your mother, brother, bandmate, just-met stranger, or potential partner can stay secret ... or be shared, purposely or by accident via a borrowed, lost, or stolen phone. However random and misspelled your text, modern technology inscribes it in the cloud, for all we know eternally, like hieroglyphics carved in stone.

As we type into teensy keyboards missives that must be compassionate—When is the funeral?—but comprise only stark synthetic sigils sent through space, what can we feel but fear?

Texts ask too much of us. 

They must be fast enough to mirror micro-moments yet remain relevant until they arrive. Hover one split-second too long over a comma or emoji and too late, you've lost it and that micro-moment—which might have worked miracles for you or your recipient or millions more if it was magical enough—has fled.

Too blind, too rapid-fire, too visible to let us backtrack—Wait, I can explain!—texting is built to injure. It prohibits us to sense or send those trillion subtle real-world signals by which even insects lure, protect, deflect.

During our worst fight ever, my best friend revealed what she said signified The End.

She said: “You never ask me questions anymore. You talk to me in tiny one-word sentences, as if you had no time for more, as if I didn't have an interesting bone left in my body.”

Conversation was the killer clue. No-longer-asking meant no-longer-caring. Shortness equaled boredom. Boom. 

That fight occurred in 1981. Who could have guessed, back then, that old-school spoken dialogue would die, or at least transform massively, within a generation, not merely for us but worldwide, species-wide? That even between best friends would be born a whole new language and a means of mutely manifesting it, mainly with thumbs? 

What works well for communicating with one person, simply doesn’t with another. Learn how to be more mindful when text messaging.


S. Rufus is the author — under the byline Anneli Rufus — of several books including Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself (Tarcher Penguin 2014) and continues on the path of addressing self-esteem.


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