“What’s the big deal with talking on the phone?” my Grandpa wanted to know.
“This text message thing is the death of grammar in this country!” exclaimed the former English professor, who wanted to know what “TTYL” meant, and rolled his eyes in exasperation when I translated.
“Your brother had 3,000 text messages in one month!” my parents called to inform me once. “What a waste of time!” I think that was the point at which they decided their family calling plan was no longer such a good idea, at least without the high-schooler in the house also making a contribution.
Then there’s my phone. I like talking on it, sure. And I use email all the time. I’m even one of the few people left who actually writes letters and sends cards at times other than birthdays. But my phone chirps on occasion too, and when it does, it’s kind of fun to get the surreptitious “Whatz up? Miss you” in the middle of the work day. It makes me smile. When you’re seeing patients in clinic or in between cases in the OR, you don’t make phone calls or send emails to the important people in your life. But there’s always 30 seconds to text back “c u 2nite!”
- Regan Wright/CC
And this makes me wonder—what does texting really say about the pace and scope of our lives? Does it mean that we are too busy to really connect in a meaningful way, too chained to our technology to be human, too sloppy with our communication to hold onto the rules of language that have shaped generations of literature and oratory? There are times when I think that each of these might be true. There are entire webpages devoted to texting acronyms, ways to say things without words, including things that shouldn’t be said, as evidenced by the alarming rise among teenagers of so-called “sexting” and associated reports of harassment and even suicide.
Yet at the same time, I can’t help but think of the list of messages in the inbox of my phone. There isn’t a person there who I don’t talk to on a regular basis and whose real words, in proper grammar and in context, aren’t part of shaping my life. It’s just so convenient to know that even in the midst of a busy life I can check to see if someone in a different time zone is awake before calling them, proclaim an emergency, contact someone with important news when I don’t want to be overheard in a public place, let someone know I’m running late, or just say “hello,” “happy birthday,” “thinking of you,” “good luck,” or any one of a thousand things we can never say too often to those who matter most to us. And okay, I admit it: sometimes when you’re somewhere you have to be but you’re bored out of your mind, the occasional text message can be a lifesaver. (For the record, I do draw the line somewhere: in ten years of higher education, I have never texted in class.)
Life could be lived without text messages. But, like email and cell phones, don’t they make everything easier?