Saturday, July 05, 2008

Texting: IMO IDC

Back in 2003 or early 2004, when I worked at a sports talk radio station, I was responsible for ensuring that our original programming got on the air and went off without glitches (something I was moderately successful at). I clearly remember one occasion in which one of our hosts would have to do a remote broadcast without access to a computer, and consequently would have no way of knowing basic things that a host needs to know, such as whether there are callers on the line. Just as he had given up hope, I asked whether his cell phone had text messaging. "Oh yeah, it does!" he remembered. Problem solved. Even though this particular host had a huge business role for the station while off-air, he evidently didn't make use much of texting.

Fast forward to the present and Wikipedia tells me that 75% of those with cell phones are frequent texters. Despite my (relatively) early application of this technology for professional purposes, I am not one of those 75%. I estimate that I have sent and received less than 20 texts in my life (and I had not sent or received a single one at the time that I saved that radio broadcast). I just don't get the phenomenon.

I seem to always read about texting in the sports section of the newspaper. I am a bit compulsive about reading the cover story of the USA Today sports section, which is quite often a profile of some athlete, and it is just amazing to me how many articles make reference to the athlete in question getting a "text from Michael Jordan" or a "text from Kobe Bryant." Mark McGwire, said to be in a kind of seclusion, frequently texts young hitters with advice on batting (insert your own joke here). Most recently, Brett Favre texted his hometown paper to temper rumors that he was returning to the Packers.

Now, athletes can certainly afford texting rates, and they can probably afford iphones or other mobile devices that make texting the basic equivalent of e-mail, but for the rest of us, what advantage does a text message have over an e-mail or an actual conversation? Obviously, some do, i.e. "running l8. b there @ 9" can be a legitimate application. But "hw r u 2day?"??? And there are certainly disadvantages to texting, even if you aren't Kwame Kilpatrick. It costs money. It can be addicting. It can imperil your life.

Obviously, for many people texting must serve a special purpose, and if it is not a pragmatic one, it must be a psychological one. Face to face, or even voice to voice interaction can be scary. Communicating through bytes can decrease anxiety and make each participant in a conversation feel that they have more control over the discourse. But that still doesn't account for why texting is often more popular than e-mailing.

I suspect the reason is that for many people, receiving a text of any kind is a mild buzz (sometimes literally). It is gratifying that someone cares enough about you to send you a text. Why wait to log onto a computer to get that buzz (and have it possibly diluted by getting several at a time), when you can carry a small device that can give you that buzz at random but blessed intervals throughout the day? And what better way to ensure that you get the buzz than by giving the buzz to others? And the phone companies reap massive profit from your buzz so everyone benefits! (except perhaps teachers who have to compete with texting, but they don't count).

Or maybe I'm just bitter because no one texts me...


Anonymous Tim said...

IMO is more of a IM thing. Texting isn't really a medium for opining. Maybe that's why you don't like it.

12:25 PM  
Blogger The Green Panther said...

Sometimes I want to convey information without having an actual discussion. All the "how are you?" and "fine, you?" flotsam and jetsam is fine for a recreational conversation, but there are times I just need to get across "meet me at 2:30" and that's all.

I prefer getting texts at work as opposed to personal calls. It's alot easier to keep texting on the downlow than it is to discuss your grandmother's surgery in front of the whole office. Granted, I shouldn't be having these conversations at work -- but try telling that to my family!

11:11 AM  
Blogger MarkL said...

Almost every time I get a text I say aloud, "Oh boy, I got a text!"
Mocking those texters gives me a different "buzz".

3:44 PM  

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