The advent of text messaging a decade and a half ago has opened up a whole new world of multitasking (for better or worse). Texting, as well as messaging apps, have sped up the flow of our social lives as well as interactions with businesses and services. However, as I’m sure you know, certain things just never belong in text message form. Some you may be aware of, like breakups, deaths, anything serious like that. But as people become more phone-averse, more exchanges that don’t belong in text form can occur. Here are some exchanges you should never try to squeeze through text and are better off communicated on phone, video call or in person.
If you’re in a rush, tired, or otherwise preoccupied it may be tempting to send sensitive info via text to someone you trust with that information, just to get past it. But keep in mind that unlike with phone calls, that info stays in the chat log- sometimes even if you delete it. Information can be skimmed too, either on your device or the recipient’s. If you have to send that info via text (email, SMS, etc.) make sure it’s encrypted. Some messenger apps are fully encrypted, so next time maybe pick one out and install it before sending sensitive or valuable info to anyone.
Here’s the main thing to take away about written communication- it’s dependent on the author to write in a way that makes up for the lack of nonverbal communication. That doesn’t just mean hand motions, that means eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, full-body expressions, and so on. If you want to make absolutely sure there’s no miscommunication during a very emotionally potent conversation, you have to be so well-written that you can perfectly convey all of these things, while you yourself are also emotionally compromised. Then you need the recipient to read everything you wrote exactly as you intended it to be read. Does that sound worth the risk? If you’re like me, the answer is “No, and I’ve learned the hard way at least a dozen times.” My recommendation is to get good at telling someone “This conversation needs to continue over the phone or in person.” Know when the conversation is getting too heated or emotional for text and when it’s time to switch gears so things don’t end up a thousand times worse, because they absolutely can.
Everything mentioned above applies, but the rub to this one is that you may not realize it at first. There are times where friendly banter can be mistaken for an argument or vice versa, and then things start to go haywire. Again, text is extremely limited, and you can’t tell the other person’s emotional or mental state just based on what they’re saying. You don’t need to venture outside of Facebook to see this in action.
At certain times you need to bring something up with someone and you know it might not be easy. Of course the best thing to do is to try to handle it in a different form of communication but we’re all human, we’re busy, and this is going to happen. A simple “Mind if I ask you something?” under some contexts may be a source of anxiety for the recipient, or it may be totally fine. However, things like “We need to talk” have a threatening tone. You may think you’re getting a rise out of them, but in actuality you’re putting them in defense mode. Depending on their temperament that may make them more evasive, more argumentative, or more likely to lash out. It unnecessarily raises the temperature of the whole conversation before it’s even started.
This one can be deceiving, because a lot of criticism does work best in text. Everything from movie reviews to notes on a term paper tend to do fine, however those are also written by professionals. The teacher or professor is usually very experienced in writing constructive critical feedback, not to mention the subject itself, and of course movie, music, book and game critics have based their lives around their chosen media platform. Many of them still have to deal with a torrent of backlash, and if it can happen to the professionals, it can definitely happen to you. This goes double for criticism that isn’t requested. Unwanted criticism or advice is almost never a good idea, and should really only be used when you’re an actual expert on the subject and/or something is starting to go seriously wrong with what they’re doing. For instance, if you’re a dentist and your friend sends you a pic of a mountain of candy wrappers after they have eaten all of them, it’s open season. Tell them about cavities all you want, they knew what they were getting into.
Unnecessarily large blocks of text
Look, I’m extremely guilty of this. I got called on it today. And yes, there are times where it’s acceptable, it’s just a matter of reading the room. How long are their responses? You should try to keep yours around that length when you can. Sometimes it may be the text equivalent of one person just sitting there and listening to the other, but that’s less common than one person just getting way too absorbed in what they have to say, or it being an emotionally charged subject to begin with. Some of us are more likely to do this than others because some of us are more expressive, and in those cases it may help to sort out your thoughts before typing the message, in order to keep it from getting overwhelming. Otherwise you may be writing long, meandering texts as you figure out what it is you’re trying to say.
I’m not going to denigrate gossip in its regular form, although I view it as usually more destructive than helpful. In fact the term “gossip” only seems to get brought out when smack talk is involved. In text form, this is especially a bad idea. That smack talk can get screenshot and sent to the subject of the gossip any time, and because it’s text, you and the recipient are both more likely to say things you wouldn’t say out loud. That’s quite a combination, right? More likely to say something you’ll regret and you’re leaving behind evidence? Sure, it’s possible to gossip all your life and never run into this problem, but the risk exists and it’s yours to choose. Your best bet may be to take advice mentioned by the Social Issue Research Centre and send a “trailer” text telling friends you’ve got info to share, but saving the details for a phone call or meeting.
Bonus: So what CAN I text?
It may seem like I’ve dragged texting a lot here, because… Well, I have. The thing is, the flaw isn’t with texting, it’s with our habit of choosing text instead of calling because it’s easier and comes with less stress. Some people have anxiety talking on the phone, and teens these days tend to limit talking on the phone to their closest friends. With texting being 15 years old now, millions are growing up in an era where talking on the phone seems unnecessary, cumbersome and in many cases, needlessly stressful. And a lot of times it is! Texting excels at handling small, spread-out exchanges. Imagine having to make a phone call for every little thing you need to tell someone. Some of you don’t have to imagine this, because you’ll remember it. And as mentioned at the top, texting businesses or services makes things much easier as long as basic communication skills are in order. Probably no message reflects the usefulness of texting better than a delivery driver sending “be there in 5”. On the recreational side, there’s the ability to share links, videos, pictures, audio recordings and numerous other things, which makes texting great for casual conversation and chit chat, and adds flavor to a positive conversation. However it still just doesn’t quite handle negative or sensitive info yet- even with emojis, gifs and stickers.
If you absolutely have to share difficult or emotionally sensitive info via text, I recommend sending an audio or video clip. It’s still fairly one-sided, because you’re not able to gauge their reaction, but at least they can gauge yours, and that makes it more appropriate for delivering significant (good or bad) news than just texting. It’s also available on practically every messaging platform in existence, so why aren’t we using it? Especially right now, during a pandemic, where seeing each other’s faces is a rare treat. In normal times too, texting can become an insufficient substitute for more meaningful interaction, because it’s more convenient or a common activity when we’re bored.
What are your thoughts? Are there things you feel work much better via text? Or did I miss something? Either way, let us know in the comments below.
Evolution, alienation and gossip the role of mobile telecommunications in the 21st Centuryby kate Fox. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2021, from http://www.sirc.org/publik/gossip.shtml
Luna, K. (2019, August 9). It’s complicated: Our relationship with texting. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/08/relationship-texting
Anderson, M. (2020, August 27). For teens, phone calls are reserved for closer relationships. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/17/for-teens-phone-calls-are-reserved-for-closer-relationships/