Have you ever sent a text message to a friend or family member and in your haste left out a comma or period? Suddenly the text message takes on a whole new tone that may not be perceived in the way you intended. Communicating via text, as opposed to speaking face-to-face or having a conversation on the phone, hinders our ability to effectively communicate with others. Yet, for a large percentage of individuals, a text message or note via social media is more comfortable than live interaction. CBS cited a poll that found adults send and receive an average of 41.5 texts per day and young adults and teens average 109.5 messages per day.
In a study published in Human Communication, the author discusses people with “communication anxiety problems.” Technology, such as SMS or text messages, offer an alternative means of interacting with others. Texting alleviates the fear of “negative evaluation” by peers, particularly for those without solid speaking skills. Technology-based communication reduces inhibitions and instills confidence in users. This breeds the notion that they can say things that they would be afraid to say to someone face-to-face. Texting then becomes particularly attractive when having critical or uncomfortable conversations.
The same study notes that texting involves less work than face-to-face conversations and phone calls. With a mere 160 characters, accepted abbreviations and acronyms, and the ability to have complete control over timing, texting is convenient. Individuals can involve a number of participants in a text discussion without knowledge of schedules. Effort is no longer necessary to set up a meeting or call. With the ability to edit text conversations, the socially anxious believe they can ensure smooth interactions.
The ability to communicate verbally or in written form is still essential. Inflection can change the meaning of an entire sentence, which makes telephone and in-person exchanges more effective. Body language and eye contact also convey meaning, which is why face-to-face conversations cannot be replaced. The value of writing skills, whether virtual or on paper, has been undervalued. Using “text speak,” such as “lol” and “ur,” isn’t appropriate for school work, business communications, or even birthday cards.
Text messages have their place, particularly when other forms of communication aren’t available. However, it’s essential to get back to basics when it comes to interpersonal communications. Face-to-face interactions are deeper and more meaningful. They allow us to build lasting relationships with friends, loved ones, and coworkers. Connecting with others solely through texting and other technological means leads to a decline in social skills and the inevitable communication breakdown.