Does addictive texting foster or abate loneliness?
Texting is a very useful technology however there is a real negative side to it. Besides the dangers previously referred to in these columns, there is a real problem with texting when there is conflict between texters.
A Brigham Young University study* found that men and women in conflict situations text differently. Men are more likely to text to attack or avoid (fight or flight response), while women are more likely to text to capitulate or minimize conflict. Arguing via text may feel safe to the combatants, but the technological barrier weakens the relationship.
It is my observation that the “technological barrier” of texting is bound to weaken nearly every relationship, because real relationships are best developed face-to-face.
Think with me for a moment about what is lost when your primary relationships are sustained with a few short sentences thumb-typed in haste. Here are five barriers to meaningful relationships created when texting is the major medium for communication.
- The Sound Barrier. Voice inflections cannot be transmitted in a text even with the clever use of punctuation marks. Take the simple question that might be asked in a texting conversation: “What did u mean by that?” Think of the variety of tones you could use to ask that question? Think also of how easily the recipient of your text could misinterpret what you meant.
- The Body Barrier. Much of the way you communicate is with gestures. When you feel defensive you fold your arms, when you are open and inviting you speak with your palms up and arms open. It is impossible to read body language with LOL, OMG or RBTL (Read Between The Lines).
- The Facial Barrier. When you speak you reveal a variety of nonverbal messages that are discernible in the face, unless you are a serious poker player or an experienced con artist. The face quietly announces your state of mind, reveals your emotions, and exposes what you really think, all without forethought. No such messages are detectable through a text.
- The Eye Barrier. The eyes really are the window to the soul, according to researchers.** They found that patterns in the iris indicate whether you are warm and trusting or neurotic and impulsive. Who hasn’t said, “I looked into his eyes and I knew…” You cannot see their eyes when you text.
- The Context Barrier. When you send or receive a text, consider what you do not know about the other person. You do not know where they are, who they are with, how they feel, what they are doing, or if they are sincerely interested in communicating with you.
So, how helpful can texting be for the development and maintenance of a sincere friendship? IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): Not much. Texting works great for short, informative messages that make life simpler. Like the text I sent my hairdresser the other day: mst have hrcut by fri. She fired back, mon noon open. I texted back. CU then thnx. That was it. And that is where texting beats a phone call anytime.
But as for building friendships? Hot so hot. Use texting to confirm your coffee date at Starbucks, but not to discuss personal issues, debate great ideas, or bicker about last night’s dust up. Save the serious stuff for a face-to-face encounter where the technological barriers go down and the possibilities of true friendship go up.