I hate text messages.
Of the primary ways we communicate, texting has to be near the bottom of my preferences.
- Video call
- Snail mail
- Social media
- Phone call
- Blinking morse code
- Total silence
- Text messaging
So I was wondering why this is. I realized that, in part, it’s because texting is an inherently flawed and ineffective means of communication. That doesn’t mean we can’t use text messages effectively. But it does mean that most people don’t. You might even say it’s the death of communication.
1. It’s easy to miscommunicate
When you communicate with text messages, it’s easy to misconstrue what someone else is saying.
When you’re texting, there is a lack of many cues we humans normally use to communicate. There is no body language. No facial expression (emojis don’t count). No tone of voice. (You can use GIFs, but that doesn’t quite make up for the gap.)
Let’s not forget inadvertent errors like autocorrect and typoes. Heck, when I typed the word typoes, it was instantly autocorrected to ‘types.’ How’s that for a for instance? When all we have to communicate with are words, those words are really important. And changing those words randomly can be majorly misleading.
People also try to use unnecessary abbreviations and acronyms when texting. Maybe they think it saves time. But it really just leads to more confusion and having to explain what the abbreviation means. Which takes more time and defeats the entire purpose.
When I do text, I speak in complete and grammatically correct sentences. Do people make fun of that? Occasionally. But do they understand what I’m saying? Yes.
2. People have unreasonable expectations
People expect you to text them back immediately. Because most people have their phone attached to them 24/7, not responding instantaneously is somehow seen as rude or inconvenient. Do you know what’s actually rude and inconvenient? The expectation of instantaneous responses.
When people are expected to respond quickly, they usually make mistakes. Which requires more text messages to explain. And further sets the expectation that they’ll always respond immediately. It’s a vicious downward cycle that no amount of emojis can fix.
Ultimately, most people who primarily communicate through text have no boundaries — either for themselves or others. They rely on this form of instantaneous communication too much. It’s almost as if they’re addicted — which many people neurologically are.
I overcompensate by refusing to respond to texts immediately. I do my best to ignore my phone — let it fight for my attention, not the other way around. I try to text most people back within a day or so. But I don’t always succeed. And I haven’t died or lost any friends yet — at least that I’m aware of.
3. It detracts from other communication
Do you know what’s the best form of communication? Talking to a real person, in person. Because you can see their facial expression and read their body language. That’s where all of the unspoken communication happens. And that’s what is completely lost in a dumb text message.
Do you know what makes text messaging even worse? It distracts us from communicating with people in person.
How many countless times has someone interrupted an actual conversation with you to answer a phone call or text message? (More importantly, how many times have you done that to someone else?)
We’re eager to reach for the least effective form of communication while we’re in the middle of the most effective form of communication. And maybe that’s because we’re afraid of that effectiveness. Perhaps we’ve grown afraid of actual vulnerability and empathy, so we flee to the impersonal grounds of the shallow text message.
Guess what else text messages distract people from? That’s right — driving. Yep, texting actually kills people. You can’t even say that about faxing. Just further proof that text messages are the worst.
How to communicate better
The good news is that we live in a world with nearly infinite options for communications. We’re not stuck with a sub-optimal form of communication. We can do better.
- Text someone for quick-response communication. If your message is more than two sentences, it’s probably better suited for a phone call or email.
- Email someone if you need to include a lot of information that needs to be referenced later. And especially if you need to attach files — texting a huge video file is not a good way to go.
- Phone calls are better for in-depth conversations that require care and nuance. It’s easier to understand a person when you can hear their tone of voice.
- We all have Zoom fatigue right now, but those video chats are nice for being able to empathize with people, because you can see faces and read body language.
- Messaging someone on social media is fine in some cases. But remember that people don’t always check all of their social accounts. And it’s easy to miss a DM.
- And don’t forget the original form of communication — talking to someone in person. It’s a classic, and still the best form of human communication.