Infinity Texting

Blue Elephant and Little Hut thrived in the Colombo nightclub scene in the early 1990s. Working for an Australian-owned company at the time, it was expected that we would spend every Friday night “team-building” in one of these popular clubs. I used to have a bad reaction to cigarette smoke, so every Friday night I’d come home half-blind and teary-eyed. I tried everything to get over my totally uncool reaction, but nothing worked. Smokers could be found in clubs, workplaces, public transportation, and restaurants. Then the government banned smoking in public (and some enclosed) places. And that was the end of that. The coolness wore off. The original uncool (like myself) took great delight in turning their collective nose up at the nouveau uncool ‘perpetrators’.

I believe now I’ve developed a new allergy – a sensitivity to texting. SMS is used for short messages, as the name implies. However, some people mistake SMS for a long, ongoing conversation about something insignificant, and so they type away. Some people send multiple messages, each with only five words. Seeing 30+ messages from the same sender is bad for my blood pressure. What exactly is this new trend? All I need from a message is for someone to tell me when is a good time to call. Or meet up for a coffee. But no. Texting has become more complicated than a Shakespearean sonnet which has 14 lines, divided into three quatrains and a concluding couplet such as the most famous, “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow..”

An exception – I am not irritated by one long email-sized message. This is better than an intrusive phone call (when you don’t know the person well) or an email – which can end up in the bin or spam folder.

That backstory seemed essential for some reason. Moving on to the real reason for this post…

Love affairs and marriages are struggling as a result of partners communicating via text messages. They become irritated if the response was too soon, too late, no response, sparse, verbose, distant, sounded rude, annoyed, curt, or horny at the wrong time. When two people don’t build a communication tower with a face-to-face foundation, the signal is easily lost in the virtual chaos.

We connect with each other because we like each other. Proximity and familiarity increase liking. In one experiment, researchers found that students rated another ‘new’ student as more attractive the more frequently they saw her, suggesting that if you want to be liked, you have to be present! But how are we ‘being present, when most of our communication happens through texting? The ‘being present’ time is spent arguing about the offensive texts!

This is not to say that online living is without its benefits. Many people meet online, form friendships, fall in love, and get married. Some have very healthy relationships. Online connections can progress rapidly even though you may not know much about the other person and even become quite intimate. In the same manner, these relationships can come to a grinding halt at the click of a button. But one thing is obvious. Text-based or online-based relationships are very different from offline relationships. Anthropologist, David Jacobson compared online expectations with offline experiences and found significant discrepancies. He found that people imagined others to be stereotypical of their vocation or profession, for example. But now I digress.

Let’s get back.

Social media has done nothing to help those texting offenders or victims. People are becoming exceptional spies on social media. And they confront their hapless partner, not face-to-face, but through four dozen text messages. [Doing my best to stay on topic, but for those of you who might be interested to dig a little deeper, a couple of interesting studies look at Facebook surveillance and Facebook jealousy.] Confrontations are best face-to-face. But those who are less satisfied in their relationships, resort to addressing a confrontational subject with their partner through texting. More about that here.

Now I do understand that texting is quite common in young adult romantic relationships, but this study gives the low-down on who texts and why. According to Michelle Drouin and Carly Landgraff:

Texting and sexting are both significantly related to attachment style.

Texting was more common among those with secure attachments.

“Sexting” associated with both attachment anxiety and avoidance.

Avoidant men were more likely than avoidant women to send sex text and picture messages to relationship partners.

Another study figured out the main reason for texting within a romantic relationship – it is to express affection. That is all good. There are enormous benefits to keeping in touch, in surprising ways, with your significant other. But if you find yourself preferring to text rather than meet and talk, you should take a step back and take a good look at how your relationship is progressing. We cannot ignore that we have evolved as social animals. We need to connect to each other face-to-face, not with our devices text-by-text.

Changes in how we communicate can be driven by the attitudes we hold. Today, only a few young people consider smoking to be cool. And it is also time to shift our perspective on infinity texting.

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