Meditations on Death and Texting

“I think it is even better to make ready for the great catastrophe than to hope that it will not take place and that we can continue the dream-state of our immaturity.”
—Carl Jung

I was recently quoted in an interview as having said that "The mobile phone is like the 21st-century cigarette. I am quite sure we are going to look back at the mobile phone and discover that it is the root of human disconnectedness and various illnesses."

With every single moment we spend apportioning our attention to a tiny screen in front of us, we lose contact with one another. In the interest of actual brevity and candor, and not truncated emotional bytes, reducing human communication to "as little as possible in as few words as possible" has done irreparable damage to human relationships. According to many social scientists, relationships have become more difficult in the past ten years. Be it texting your partner, work-mate or Mom--text is a minimally effective mode of communication. I say it's time to dump it.

Short-form, caustic abbreviations often cause the simplest of exchanges to turn into complex misunderstandings, in a matter of seconds. When we "text", the conversation is made immediately devoid of all emotional context. Nowadays, if you cannot say it in 140 characters or less, then it might not pass muster for relevance. How many times have you forgone a conversation and "just texted". That is plain laziness. Patience is required to let ideas and conversations unfold, unwind, and take the natural twists and turns you get when you sit down and drink tea.

Ross Douthat wrote an article in the New York Times in 2013 about lonely people and the fact that the suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010. He quotes a Virginia sociologist, Brad Wilcox, who connects suicide and weakened social ties.

Does this surprise anyone?

Per Lori Schade, a licensed marriage and family tells us that texting can do quite a bit more damage than we are inclined to think. It is not just that you, god forbid, rear-end someone in traffic, or send boss a picture of your “junk”; you might destroy a perfectly good relationship. Schade and another professor, Jonathan Sandberg, studied 276 young adults nationwide to see what communicating through texts did to their contacts. The participants were real couples: 38 percent described their relationship as serious, 46 percent were engaged, and 16 percent were married. Each of them completed a detailed relationship assessment that covered, among other things, their use of technology.

The study has some interesting conclusions. Text as a casual method of staying in touch throughout the day seems to be a good thing. Many people text about what scholars call “relationship maintenance.” However, women do not want to text about severe subjects and men tend to think much texting is not a good thing. Alternatively, the reverse, men will use texting a lot when they do not want to be confrontational, and women will think they are "needy" if they text too much. 

What we all do know, and some to admit (if this is you, you are in fact, emotionally stunted), is that texting removes us from the emotional responses, the facial cues and vocal intonations of partners—and so text cannot be any under circumstances considered an intimate or even desirable form of communication. Sandberg writes, “There are some things you can do with texting that is helpful to a relationship and some that aren’t. To connect and express affection is good. To try to maintain a relationship in crisis, or resolve serious issues, apologize or be critical and say hurtful things—it is bad for you.” Agreed.

Maturity creates dividends. I say this because I am now over the age of forty-five and I have seen enough of life to know bullshit when it comes my way. The amount of time I have on the planet, in business, in multiple relationships, and just in general, has taught me an immeasurable amount of practical wisdom. Living it is another story. I practice zen for this reason. Foremost, I have learned to expect things never to go as I would like them to, and so I am not about to leave something meaningful up for interpretation in a text--nor should you.

I am concerned that the risk/reward math on texting doesn't quite add up. There are consequences—both positive and negative that can increase attachment in relationship quality. You can use text to purposefully enhance the relationship by sending pictures or quick notes, but it can also be used to avoid in-person conversations and avoid touchy subjects. These things, of course, contradict one another, which explains precisely why texting is not always the best communication tool for anything remotely serious. 

So maybe go lighter on the text, and call more often.

Alternatively, perhaps invite someone for tea. 

You have just managed to read eight hundred fifty words or so.

That was not so bad, now was it?