*sigh* “Why don’t they just pick up the phone and call?”
It’s a common, exasperated question you’ve certainly thought (or someone thought about you) in this instant communication texting climate at one point or another: Specifically, while someone close to you on the other end of a text message, once again, choosing to send birthday wishes while attempting to “catch up”, Christmas cheer with another excuse for why they haven’t returned your calls, or some other elation of emotion, that you think would be best carried through the sound of their voice over the phone, or better yet, in person.
Or, in contrast, there’s some subdued degree of emotion, such as relationship strife, conflict or disconnect, being communicated consistently through a text message, rather than voice. Either way, this person has distanced themselves physically/vocally from you, while amping up their digital presence in your life instead.
Texting is quick. Obviously. It relays a thought, feeling, question and information seemingly instantaneously. Everyone does it. I’d bet my bottom dollar you’re doing it right now.
You’re texting in a meeting, discretely checking your smartphone under the table to read a text from your friend–waiting for your Starbucks, brainstorming dinner ideas with your husband. It’s during a class and your’re pretending as though you’re looking through your bag for something important, only to be composing a message to your girlfriend. In traffic, especially, as you slowly pass by, doing the customary ‘head-bob’ while also looking down to compose or read a text, looking up to see if traffic has moved, looking back down to finish a text, and so on.
While the examples are endless, the general consensus is this: Americans, including probably yourself, enjoy texting. Though, the collective detachment from the phone and even in person communication in our society may shock you.
Below are some double eye-brow raising statistics, fresh out of the Pew Research Center and International Smartphone Mobility Report:
- 33 percent of adults (77 percent of 18-22 year olds) prefer texts over all forms of communication (including in person).
- A third of all adults prefer text to phone calls.
- Text is the most used form of communication for adults under age 50.
- Americans send five times as many texts as compared with phone calls each day.
- 4.9 hours is the daily average smartphone usage.
However, this is in stark contrast to 75 percent of the world.
An American Problem?
Countries like India, Thailand, Mexico, and Brazil, use some type of video chat application, such as Skype and WhatsApp, in place of texting. The majority of users around the world average only 6 minutes of texting daily. Yes. Seriously.
But what can our love of texting back here in the States mean for our closest relationships?
While sending and receiving information via text message has its ease-of-use and time-saving conveniences during the day-to-day, it seems many can unknowingly become so reliant on a text-based message for these day-to-day eases, that they may begin to hide behind a text message to avoid an array of self-disclosure, whether positive or negative, in close relationships.
Self-disclosure is a practice of communication where one person shares information, such as thoughts, feelings, likes/dislikes, goals, failures, about herself or himself to another.
Sharing of this information with someone requires peeling back layers, like an onion. As you peel back one layer, you reveal more about yourself and about the other. Over time, through transparent, honest, back-and-forth disclosure, your relationship should develop and strengthen.
Self-disclosure is never ending. We’re in a continual attempt to reach as close as we can to the “core” of each onion we share with another person. Text-messaging, however, dampens this attempt to reach the center, namely due to the lack of human presence, whether over the phone or in person.
Our Heavenly Father desires us to be in face-to-face communication with each other, to encourage believers and to show Himself to unbelievers. Hebrews 10:24-25 indicates: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
There are limitations when you expect a text message to carry your entire emotional message.
When there lacks voice inflections and tonality variations in phone call conversations and, facial emotions, body proximity and an endless array of other nonverbals during in person discussions, a text message is forced to carry the load of the entire human message being sent.
This is a lonely, impossible goal. Though day-to-day texting conveniences are many, you cannot expect to completely carry this message when you’re in a routine of nearly always communicating through texting happiness of some sort, or even attempting to resolve conflict with someone you’re close with.
Attempting to manage, grow, and strengthen a close relationship, largely through texting, may hinder this process.
Extensive research suggests that many using texting for the purpose of relational maintenance, experience contradictory consequences for close relationships.
More clearly interpreted: texting, instead of a phone call, or, if you’re nearby, meeting in person with those you’re closest with, increases and fosters an illusion of closeness while actually decreasing relationship stability and satisfaction.
However, it’s nearly impossible to rid yourself of texting altogether. That isn’t the objective of this article. Fact is: we are a texting culture, myself included.
I text with my wife when I’m apart from her and unable to call. This occasional, brief back-and-forth messaging throughout the day is affirming. I experience an array of feelings, thoughts, and longings via these interconnected text-based messages. Though it has its perks, text does not fulfill our relationship needs and goals.
An Illusion of Intimacy
Traditional mobile-phone research supports cell phone use can strengthen family bonds and facilitate friendships, when used supplementary to face-to-face communication. Nevertheless, as today’s statistics above reveal, face-to-face communication, for many, is becoming supplementary to texting when it pertains to relationship building and maintenance.
For instance, texting delivers an illusion of intimacy, providing people the often favorable opportunity to limit emotional disclosure to text and emojis on a screen, dodge conflict, and evade relational connection, maintenance, and growth. When used properly, texting is advised to be used to compliment face-to-face relationships, instead of supersede or replace.
Text-messaging is merely a dab of icing, small amounts of relationship connectivity and affirmation, resting ever-so-lightly on the colossal cake of consistent in person quality time, disclosures, desires and emotions.
Our cake, for my wife and I, for example, is the love, faith, hope and trust, which we build during daily, dependable, face-to-face interactions. Communication exchanged in our texts reflects precisely the feelings, thoughts and longings we exchange when together in person or over the phone.
It never contains substance we wouldn’t share when together.
In contrast, when there exists even a degree of relational conflict or misunderstanding, choosing to forgo communicating this in a text message, waiting to discuss in person, eliminates a large amount of easy-to-commit, miscommunication: a large precursor to conflict. This strategy encourages relationship growth in person, more accurately reading each other’s nonverbals and subtle verbal nuances, nonexistent in text messaging.
What can be devastating to your close relationships, including your marriage, friendships and family relationships, is exploiting texting as an illusionary cloak, falsely excusing you from in person or over-the-phone self-disclosure and conflict resolution. Consequently, preventing your face-to-face relationships from strengthening and maintaining.
What we’re seeing consistently in the research across the board is this: many today will turn to texting to avoid talking on the phone or visiting face-to-face with friends and family. What I mean by we’re, beyond the researchers, are you and I.
Take a look around you. It doesn’t take a handful of researchers telling you that people enjoy texting…a lot. However, the underlining issue often going unnoticed, or, apathetically disregarded, are the relationship dissolutions happening at an exponential rate. Conditioning of the mind occurs when there is consistency in behavior. Consistent, heightened amounts of text-messaging behavior potentially can actually drive you apart from those you’re closest with.
This increasing rate of dissolution happens when you largely choose texting to celebrate, commemorate, memorialize, rejoice, applaud, commend, honor, or in contrast, to communicate distaste, conflict or discontentment, solely in place of picking up the phone or visiting in person to relay your important message.
Letting voice inflections, tonality and other nuances carry your emotion, or visiting in person, providing a warm embrace, facial compliments such as smiles and hugs, and simply some good o’l quality time, develops, manages, and strengthens close relationships beyond what any text based communication ever could do alone.
is an assistant professor of communication at Taylor University. His teaching and research efforts are conducted through the lens of social psychology. He focuses primarily on marriage fidelity, relationship development/management, the self, nonverbal communication, persuasion, social influence and social media. He lives in Indiana with his beautiful wife, Stacey.