Louis Menand has written an article damning texting as the nadir of human communication. As a late but fervent adopter of texting, I’ll argue to the contrary.
One of the biggest complaints about texting is that entering text using the numeric keypad on a mobile phone is incredibly tedious and painful. On this note, I agree. I never texted until I bought an iPhone. Here’s the thing — cell phones that provide only a numeric keypad are an endangered species. Blackberry and iPhone are the harbingers of the future in this regard. With a real keyboard, texting really isn’t too painful, and there’s less incentive to abbreviate everything.
Texting fits into a niche that was previously unoccupied. Here are the three specific advantages of texting: texts are delivered in realtime, brief, and easy to ignore. Here’s the sentence that shows that Menand doesn’t get it:
Usually, if you can text a person you can much more quickly and efficiently call that person.
If you’re sitting in a meeting, or eating at a restaurant, or even standing in line at the post office, talking on your phone is impossible at worst or rude at best. I can text anyone with the knowledge that doing so will not interrupt whatever more important business they’re taking care of. If they have time, they can look down at their phone and read the text immediately. If they’re busy, or even in the middle of an interesting conversation, they can save looking at the text for later.
Yesterday I was in a meeting and couldn’t pick up a call. I was able to text the person who left the voice mail immediately and ask them if the call was urgent.
Brevity is a huge advantage in a certain kind of relationship. The 140 character limit can certainly be a relief to text someone when you’re short on time and you know more would be expected of you if you contacted the person via email or called them. The tedium of entering text and the forced limit on size demands that texts get down to business. I know many people who prefer to text for this reason alone.
And finally, immediacy is what separates texting from email. Most people (other than Blackberry users) don’t get email on their mobile phone as soon as it’s sent. So if you need a response right away and the recipient is available to provide it, text messaging works like a charm.
People should learn to love text messaging, because it’s with us to stay. There’s no other form of communication that offers exactly the same set of strengths, and I expect it to grow as more people outside the texting generation recognize that.