To text or not to text, that is the question. As communication shifts into the digital realm, our interactions have become more “flattened” through the use of phatic technologies, which, according to Vincent Miller in his study New Media, Networking, and Phatic Culture, “build relationships and sustain social interaction through pervasive (but non-informational) contact” (395). Twitter, Facebook, or more notably, texting, can be considered devices through which we connect to others in a “postsocial” sort of situation, one that relies on the mediation of communication through an object (Miller, 394). Put simply, our efforts to maintain constant connectivity have resulted in the rise of meaningless conversations, meant not to express or strengthen intimacy but to merely “check-in” on another person.
This is, of course, just a theory, but it does bring up some interesting ideas about the nature of texting. Does it really diminish the nature of conversation? If so, does that shift affect our conversations in every day life? In what way?
While it’s obvious the effect texting has on the written word (l8r, gr8, and B4 have all become well-known abbreviations), its impact on spoken language is not so immediately overt. The 160-character limit in early cell phone models launched, one could argue, a sub-category of language known as text-language. As AIM and cell phone conversations boosted the popularity of 3 letter-acronyms, the letters themselves began to seep into our everyday lives. Lawlz, for example, a phonetic version of LOLs (as in LOLOLOL) has become a common expression among teenagers engaging in joking conversation.
More significant than how we say these words is how much meaning we inject into them. Unlike phone calls or face-to-face interactions, which demand a more intimate exchange of thoughts, texting turns conversations into diluted forms of our thoughts. Texts are snippets of conversations, blurbs of information being passed from one person to another. This non-dialogic pattern of communication can be found, not just in the digital world, but also, in “reality” (Miller, 388). When we say, “how are you,” to a passing acquaintance on the street, how often do we actually intend to hear a response? Or, if we do, how involved are we, really, in their answer? Many of our everyday interactions have become formalities rather than deep and meaningful. In other words, “how are you” has become a physical manifestation of the flattening of language, a “real-life” glimpse of phatic communication.
Ellen Degeneres puts this idea nicely in this clip from her stand-up:
This is not always the case, of course. In fact, texting can be beneficial in some cases for those who may be more comfortable with writing than speaking. My parents, for example, will sometimes use texting to discuss topics that may be difficult to explain in person. It can be an effective approach for someone who may be able to articulate their thoughts through writing or who may need time to think about concepts before expressing their opinion. Then again, is this unwillingness to engage in face-to-face conversation, this discomfort with social interaction, a direct result of such communications? It’s entirely possible.
While texting and other phatic technologies may pose a threat to meaningful conversations, they can also, in some cases, work in their favor. It all seems to come down to how such technologies are utilized.
Image via Flickr
"New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture." Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14:.387 (2008): n. pag. Print.