What we lose with texting


I watched a girl at my gym as she texted recently. I noticed that she was quite expressive, which started me thinking. No matter how expressive she was, the person on the other side would have no idea. All the person on the other side would see is the message, and regardless of how many emoticons she used, the other person wouldn’t really know what this girl looked like as she texted.

I realized as I watched this that humans are rapidly losing a hugely important part of conversation. That part is the inflection and expression we experience during a face-to-face conversation. My analogy is music. Live and uncompressed music is full of dynamics and range. As music is compressed to fit into a small digital file like and mp3, millions upon millions of bits of data are discarded. You can hear this when a music file is compressed. I’m sure at some point you’ve heard a song and thought it just sounded bad. It was probably over-compressed, which causes voices to sound tinny, cymbals to sound like an air compressor, and dynamics to vanish.

That is, to me, similar to what’s happening as we rely more and more on texting and impersonal, non-verbal communication. We are in effect compressing human interaction, and losing much of what makes an interaction meaningful. And we become less and less understood. There’s no one who uses email who hasn’t been misinterpreted when someone reads their email or text. One might type with a particular inflection in mind, but when the recipient reads the message there is no inflection or expression to allow for the proper interpretation of the message.

Why does this matter? Because inflection and expression are what give words their full meaning. Without them we will begin to lose our ability to fully communicate, and with that, we’ll also lose a part of our culture. So the next time you think about texting, stop and think about calling instead. At least that way, you can connect beyond the words. And if you really want to be daring, try to set up a time to meet. I guarantee you’ll be more fulfilled than sitting home or at the gym and just hitting “send”.