This is the confession of a serial texter. I text all the time. I send off rapid-fire zingers, hit up my entire contact list to see what people’s poppin’ weekend plans are, and screw around figuring out the weirdest word I can spell with the number 8. For a long time I’ve dreamed of a world where everything could be taken care of via text.
Image remixed from Icons Jewelry (Shutterstock).
Whether it’s scheduling a doctor’s appointment, managing job responsibilities or ordering late-night delivery, I wish I could send a text for whatever I needed, receive a personalised confirmation and not be bothered anymore. Dealing with stuff over the telephone takes forever. You have to call back, repeat yourself, spend time on hold, then make sure they get your postcode right. It’s the worst. Making phone calls is just so laborious.
It was an afternoon like any other, when my friend Stephanie and I were trying to coordinate our plans for dinner — you know, some place close, but reasonably priced, but not Italian, definitely a place with waiters, not a drab joint. I wasn’t sure what time and didn’t care about outdoor seating. Yeah, the place better serve booze. There were too many variables and we kept texting back and forth. My mobile phone was vibrating so much it’s like it had the shakes. My thumbs were starting to bleed.
Then Stephanie texted: Just call me.
At first I was appalled. I mean, a phone call? What sacrilege! Using our voices to exchange actual words? We didn’t buy smartphones for this.
“Hey,” Stephanie said, once I rang her. “So for tonight…”
We asked concise questions, answered each other directly, were insistent and made concrete plans. It took less than five minutes.
The impossible task of deciding where to dine was dealt with quickly and without fuss. After the phone call we didn’t text anymore. And it felt nice to chop off that ongoing line of connection. Perhaps my serial texting is a bit of a time-waster, I thought. And recently I’ve been texting my friends: Just freaking call me!
It’s hard to pinpoint when the shift happened but it definitely did. For a lot of people I know — people in their twenties and thirties, almost all of whom own smartphones and don’t have landline connections in their homes — at some point texting became our primary means of communication.
According to CTIA, an international organisation that represents the wireless industry, there were 158.6 billion text messages sent in America in 2006. In 2011, there were 2.3 trillion. That’s an increase of almost 1500 per cent. Plotted out, the CTIA data shows an exponential increase. More info finds that the percentage of households that have landlines is decreasing. This confirms what a lot of us already know: texting is what’s up and phone calls are passé.
Texting is better because we can do it wherever, on the bus, during a meeting, in an aeroplane even after they tell you to turn off “all electronic devices”, or while watching a really boring movie in the cinema. Texting allows us to carry on many conversations at once; it’s clear, quick and includes emoticons. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say going a whole day without talking on the phone is understandable, while going a whole day without texting is unimaginable. Phone calls are outmoded and we try to avoid them. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss!
When a new piece of technology comes along, earlier technologies take on more of a niche role. For instance, in the 1950s, when TV viewing came to replace radio listening as the most popular form of home entertainment, radios didn’t go away. Although families now watched I Love Lucy on the tube instead of listening to Orson Welles narrate The Shadow, radios were still important. They played more music (since narrative shows were now within the domain of TV), were installed in cars, and used to communicate wonky political beliefs. Instead of finding a niche role for phone calls, however, we’re trying to discard them completely.
As a texting addict, I have to admit: While texting is great and lovely and awesome, it can lead to the most meandering, drawn-out, random-ass conversations ever, where we send messages back-and-forth without coherent communication. It also takes a while to express complex thoughts or deal with complicated situations like deciding where to dine.
The niche role of phone calls, then, is that they allow for direct discussion and immediate problem-solving. They’re annoying but useful, I’d say. So the next time you text, What are your plans tonight? and your friend is like, Work sucks, and you reply, So tonight?, and your friend is like, Uggh, just give this friend a ringading and be like, “YO!”
Your thumbs will thank you.
Alex Kalamaroff is 25 years old and lives in Boston. He works for Boston Public Schools. If you shoot him an email, he’ll probably respond.