Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Can't we just text it out?

I remember the first cell phone commercial that promoted the idea of texting. I had the same reaction to that commercial that I had to the first Apple ad in the 70's promoting personal computers to be used at home. That idea will never fly.

Good thing no one consults me for the technological future.

To me, texting equalled a retreat into darkness. Telephones made people not present, present, through the ease of talking, voice, intonation and all that stuff that makes it feel like you have the person right with you. The only thing missing were visuals, which the Jetsons and Bell telephone assured us were just around the corner.

So what happened to the video phone?

It tumbled into outer "failed idea" darkness and instead, text messaging crawled from the murky depths... the next link in technological evolution.

But the middle aged among us all ask: why would someone go to the trouble of typing on tiny keys (with inscrutable letters), navigating the triple alphabet per button to convey what could be expressed in ten seconds directly, without waiting for a reply?

Apparently the answer to that question is: safe distance.

When we attended Johannah's orientation this last week, the leaders explained that this generation of freshmen is less confrontational than any they can remember. These kids avoid conflict and refuse to express what they need/want in person, directly, eye-to-eye. They've been raised in an era of diversity and tolerance and know that people with character ought not to judge. They know this not as a Sunday school lesson, but as the essential social rule that they must obey, or at least appear to obey.

Instant Messaging (first) and texting after it led to a way to communicate hard things: gossip, insults, praise, flirting, I love you, racism, homophobia, want to go out? and more. You could appear to be courteous, friendly, "not interested" and tolerant in person, but unleash that other side of self through typing. Somehow the dark side of each person's soul had an outlet... an accepted one that didn't tarnish your public reputation.

Addtionally, flirting became a much lower risk endeavor. Saving face, much easier.

Texting also led to communicating with lots of people at once. No more were you forced to keep going with one person on the other end of the phone, enduring the awkward silence, deciphering what that long pause meant. If the IM conversation with one person peetered out, you had four more cooking along to replace it. If the texter suddenly had to climb into that orthodontist's chair, three more conversations were still demanding your attention.

The OSU orientation leaders shared a story of an RA meeting with two disgruntled dorm mates who sat directly across from each other in the same room texting angry messages over roommate problems until the RA shouted: Stop! and required them to put down their phones and learn how to communicate what was bugging them in words, eye-to-eye. That's where it's gone. No one wants to appear angry in person. So they resort to texting instead.

There are rules in texting. When I asked Johannah to call me and closed with a period, she thought I was angry. I thought I was using proper punctuation. According to Johannah, periods mean you're bugged.

A greeting without an exclamation point means that you're in a blue mood.

Typing with misspellings has fallen into disrepute among upperclassmen in high school and college students. Abbreviations like "u r" and "LOL" are shunned because they're so junior high. These "near adults" pride themselves on spelling properly (and all the English teachers cheered!).

College kids will not answer their phones even when they hear them ring and have nothing else to do, but will text you back in the middle of class, a date, during a movie or while driving(!).

And those camera phones! Johannah sends me photos when she shops for clothes to get my advice. Noah sends me photos of things that make him laugh. I send photos of the kids to Noah because he lives away.

I'm about the slowest text-er to ever inhabit a mother's body. But I'm committed. The best thing about texting that I can see is that it's instant and brief. If I need that moment-by-moment touch but haven't got time for a long conversation, texting fills the bill.

Seems the video phone will never emerge.

Texting and camera phones. If you invested way back when, I'll bet your rich. Next time you need technological foresight, ask me what I think, and do the opposite.


brian said...


Thanks for this insight. This is just another sign that I'm really getting old. I simply could not understand this texting craze. I thought it was about high school kids being able to secretly communicate during class. But, I could not understand why so many people were texting all the time. I don't text, I won't text. I have a good friend who has teenagers. He sends text messages like crazy. Finally, as a concession to him, I learned how to text and I hate it.


Ampersand said...

I find texting to be a very efficient way to extend or receive apologies!

thechurchgeek said...

Must confess I've not gotten into texting yet...partly because we got a phone plan a year and half ago that didn't include unlimited texting. But I also hate punching those numbers on those little keys.

I'd say that for me, e-mail at times has served a similar purpose to what you mention in your post about texting. I loved it at first because it was a way that I could communicate a little more aggressively than I might actually do in person.

It was really helpful when I had a boss who loved to talk and could not for the life of him listen to a thing you had to say. But I discovered that if you put it in an e-mail then he was forced to hear and to respond.

Rebecca said...

I only text with my children. It was a no-brainer once I found out that a text only counts as 1/3 of one of our pre-paid minutes.

And it limits their answer to my 'get up now' to 'ok'. It is beyond them to text a whine.

But I'm one of those weird people who like voice response systems and love email -- I'm too introverted to want social chit-chat or having.to.explain.something.to.the.idiot.at the gas company to go along with every little detail of life..

Anonymous said...

I've never understood texting, but I think "safe distance" explained it to me. I can see that now.

By the way the videophone is slowly making itself known. I've had one for about a year now. It is the real deal. So much better than web cams. Here's a video of my Ojo:

julieunplugged said...

Anon, the link didn't work, but thanks for sharing about your video phone. Do other people need to have one in order for it to work? My husband uses a webcam with someone on the west coast who is related to his business, but that's about as close as we've come to it.

brian said...

I do understand the "distance" thing about texting. I have used email the same way myself. I guess the real thing I hate about texting is those tiny keys and the way you have to hit them up to three times each just to type one letter. It's just so much easier to dial.

Typing on a telephone keypad is a skill this old geezer will probably never acquire. I know there are people who can "touch type" on a telephone. But, that probably is not going to happen here.

Julie, I remember visiting COSI when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, about 35 years ago. They had a exhibit of the video phone. The technology has existed for years. But, people just don't want them. I think maybe it brings us TOO close. I have a friend who bought an iSight for his Mac several years ago. AFAIK, he's the only one in his circle of friends who has one. Now that they're built into the Macs, I have one on my MacBook. I only use it to take pictures of myself and the girls, as gags. I wonder how many people actually use them on any type of a regular basis.

julieunplugged said...

Brian, next time you come over, I'll show you how to use T-9 and you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to text. No more hunting through three letters for every word. You can type like you would on a typewriter (almost) and the words will select for you. Much easier.

And I agree about iSight. That's funny. I've never used it except with Jon and I just don't like it. :)


Anonymous said...

OK, I had to refresh my limited knowlege on HTML code, but I think this should be a hot link, now. The actual live video is sharper, because this is a video of a video.

Link to my Ojo

Yes, the person your calling needs the same videophone, also. I gave an Ojo to my sister in Chicago, because I haven't seen her in about 5 years, now it's like she's sitting across the table talking to me.
Mac's IChat also has good lip sink and video quality, but the other person also needs a Mac.
Someday it will seem normal to use video telephony.