|Q: Why is text messaging stupid?
||[Sep. 26th, 2007|01:09 am]
Q: I intuitively know that text messaging is a shitty way to communicate. But why?|
A: It's complicated.
(edited and reposted from a comment I wrote here at claudelemonde , then re-edited Septmber 2008 to add better percentage information.)
I'm not saying you're a bad person for texting, nor am I saying technology is bad. But I am saying this: your life would be better if you never texted, and I mean it. I say it because the time wasted and damage caused by texting does not outweigh its benefits, when compared with other available means of communication.
Implicit assumptions I make in thinking about this stuff:
- Effective communication is a good thing.
- Bad communication is often more harmful than NO communication.
- it is possible to approximately measure the quality of a method of communication using information/time. A standard unit being bits per second (bps).
Face-to-face, real-life communication is only 8% verbal. The rest of the communication is carried through gestures and body language (54%) and tonal information (38%). People don't receive the other types of informational flow with equal skill or, more importantly, consciousness, but the bits/sec reading on interpersonal IRL convo is HUGE. Posture, facial expression, inflection, cadence, eye contact, status transactions, pheromones, skin flushing, respiratory rate -- I could go on. It's a Niagara of info.
Use the phone and you remove more than half of the information (the 54% communicated through gesture), but you are still left with a lot. Though lacking visual, tactile, and olfactory info, hearing still allows for fairly effective communication -- and I think people improve with practice. People who are phobic about the phone are usually people who rely heavily on the other info avenues, like really flirty people, or alpha-type intimidators. Anyway: less info, fewer bps.
Instant messaging is still less effective, but preserves a time-based ability to respond that mimics real, or telephonic conversation. Most people spend a lot of time explaining, apologizing, or generally MANAGING the interaction in a really intense way. You can probably tell when someone you're IMing with is distracted by something else at their desk, and I bet it's a little irksome. Again, some people are better than others at this -- IM favors fast typists and people with an ability to focus. IM is popular because it has certain obvious advantages -- the ability to talk to multiple people more or less simultaneously, and the fact that your content can be private even in public, unlike a phone call. BUT STILL: fewer b/s. Communication degraded.
Use email and you remove the time-based nature of the communication, and almost all emotional content is gone. Emoticons help only minutely. The medium of email is prone to disastrous miscommunication because, lacking emotional cues, people guess the emotional content, and people are VERY VERY BAD AT THIS. (I have a truly marvelous explanation for this phenomenon which this margin is too narrow to contain.) Email is suited to communications free of emotional content, like announcements of meetings in conference rooms, or weather reports. But you are on dangerous ground with anything else. You know this to be true. Don't fight it. Fewer b/s. Bad news.
Text messages. You see where I'm going with this? The bitrate is down to like less than a hundred bits per second. Having a conversation via text is like trying to have sex with a picture of a person: it's so distant from the original act that it can't really be called the same thing. Only the text remains, and the time between messages. In my experience, 90% of text messages should be cell phone calls. In those remaining ten percent of situations (meetings, loud clubs, in cars driving through bad service areas,) text can be a godsend. But please people. Pick your medium with care.
GOOD (high b/s)-----> BAD (low b/s)
face2face -- videophony -- regular telephony -- IM -- email -- text -- morse telegraphy
DISCLAIMER: the above is not necessarily true or practical for people who are mentally ill, or who have other extreme external factors (illiteracy, morbid obesity, addiction, or a history of abuse) all up in their grillz.