March 9, 2011

If Your Relationship is a Blazing Fire, Texting Makes a Great Lighter Fluid

Filed under: Cell Phones — publicandprivatespace @ 1:26 pm

The text message. Until just recently, this noun had hardly been heard of and only ten years ago, it did not even exist. And yet in the past five years, the text message has exploded and become one of the most popular mediums of communication. Almost everyone in America is familiar with the distinct sound of a vibrating phone in a front jean pocket or the faint beep that comes out of a modern mom’s purse at the grocery store. With its use being nearly invisible and silent, texting has entered into realms where other modes of communication were politely asked to leave (such as the movie theatre and occasional chess tournament viewing) or incapable of communicating (like a New York Stock Exchange or public transportation). It is for these very reasons that texting has become so popular and desirable and it is for these same reasons that teenagers have made it their number one option in starting relationships.

For most people over the age of forty, it has always been believed that body language, tone and inflection in voice are critical to the understanding how a person is feeling, and therefore, a healthy relationship. And indeed this premonition is well found.  “The face and the body both normally contribute in conveying the emotional state of the individual” says one study. Without this body language, the seductive wink, the occasional eyelash batting, relationships could not achieve the emotional fortitude that would normally occur if a relationship began with a face-to-face interaction. However, many recent studies show that the building up of, or as the kids say, “talking” period, prior to the first encounter often lead to a stronger initial relationship.

In research done by McKenna and Bargh, relationships that began on the Internet, relationships that began online and then transferred to a “real-life” aspect had a much higher success rate than if they would have just began with a face-to-face first date.  While although the pseudo-safety provided in anonymity is forfeited during texting, the time provided to create some sort of bond prior to going out, a “talking” period, relationships are able to have history before being thrown into the fire. How much more enjoyable the conversation between the newly acquainted people can bypass the boring common questions of “What’s your major,” “How many siblings do you have,” “Where are you from?” What if we could begin a relationship without the awkward small talk, accidental touches, or the dreaded Freudian slip? Now a first date can feel like more like a third or fourth date.

As a person receives a text message he or she is allotted time to respond and think about his or her answer. This extra time can allow for more time to correctly voice their opinions so that a rash or inappropriate statement can be stifled. As McKenna and Bargh note in their paper, “These differences and timing and pacing provide an individual with a great deal more control over his or her side of the conversation.” This allows for the person to truly voice their opinion in an uninterrupted forum. They get to “hold the floor.”  We can sympathize with the person who has been on the date and said no more than two words because our date really enjoyed hearing themselves talk. Or the person who asked you to repeat yourself after every sentence, giving you all the evidence you need to convict him/her of being a bad listener. With texting, each sentence is literally spelled out for the other person and up for multiple reviews if the texter has forgotten what was said prior. This gives people like “talks-too-much-Tim” and “never-listens-Nancy” a chance to not waste our time on a date.

The real reason that teenagers find the thought of texting to be so mouthwateringly good is that you can do it without anyone even noticing (unless of course you want people to notice). Besides the obvious switching your ringtone to silent and switching your phone to vibrate, touch screens also have eliminated the sounds of button mashing. This makes texting the stealthiest forms of communication ever invented. Communication can now be done anytime, anywhere. As Timo Kipomaa so eloquently puts it, “Free from the limits of time and space… text messaging… is used typically in some urban environments: on buses… in cafes, and in extreme environments of communication (such as noisy rock-concerts, silent libraries, or dark cinemas full of people.” This kind of stealth is beneficial and desired for teenager and single adult alike. As a teenager, it allows you to stay in contact with your significant other during class (although this is frowned upon by many institutions) or perhaps just to wish him or her good luck right before their big game against the in-town rival. And what better way to stick it to the parents than texting under the table at dinner or telling Billy to not pull his car up to the house because the “rents” are still awake (sorry mom and dad)?  Silent. Stealthy. Perfect. College is an extremely busy time for most young adults as well and a conversation on the phone is not always appropriate or wanted. Thanks to the flexibility in access that the texting provides, one can multi-task while still attending to the needs of his gf/bf (in text lingo, this means boyfriend and girlfriend).

This type of conversation has drawn attacks from critics because it does not offer, as Ilana Gershon, a professor at Indiana University, puts it, “the broadest bandwidth of information.” However, the conversation that does exist thanks to texting is better than the conversation that didn’t before texting was created. Texting has allowed for communication to proceed in places that before were unreachable, even for the cell phone before the innovation of texting.

Texting is no golden goose. As mentioned earlier, texting does not allow for that personal one-on-one contact that is necessary for a proper relationship to unfold. There are many warning signs and issues that can accompany texting such as the over-texter, the ambiguous text, overstressing texting, and the classic complaint of “they’re a completely different person in-person.” For the person being over-texted, this is no new problem. There have always been clingy boyfriends/girlfriends and this is just another example of that. For the person who is stressing over every text message, we find again, another old problem. In the eighties it was waiting for the phone for two hours and in the 1800’s it was waiting for that letter via pony express. However, the other two issues can be serious hurdles to the beginning of a relationship. A text message misinterpreted can lead to hurt feelings, distrust, and possibly the ending of a relationship. For the person who acts differently when you are actually speaking with one another, it may need a little extra attention like actually (gulp) talking about it face-to-face.

Nonetheless, texting is a great way to “get the party started.” Whether it’s that cute girl who sits in the front row in English class or the boy who’s always outside playing soccer, text messaging acts as the perfect buffer before things escalate to a date. It allows for a person to learn whether or not they’re actually interested in a person they might’ve never talked to otherwise and eliminates a majority (but not all, unfortunately) of the awkward first encounters that we have accustomed ourselves with when we gone on the dreaded first date. We can hold our heads high knowing that their favorite color is orange, they like to listen to Paramore and No Doubt and they have 2 brothers and sisters. With this kind of small talk out of the way, it’s easy to go straight for the good stuff like their favorite food. That way you know exactly what to make them on the second date.

-Will Paton


  1. Although texting is a useful device within relationships, I do not believe it should be used in the formation of a relationship. Relationships should not be based purely on a textual level, face-to-face interactions are necessary in first establishing any kind of relationship. Initial encounters set the scene for the rest of the relationship. It is difficult to constantly be someone else when you are in the company of someone else, but using a text message allows you to easily filter your thoughts and become someone you are not. A relationship that is initially based on the sending of texts can establish a fake façade for either or both individuals to hide behind. This phoniness creates an unreal relationship upon the future will inevitably falter and fail, unless of course the relationship is never brought into the realm of actual in-person interactions.

    Texting can later be a relationship enhancer, especially when in the absence of the other individual. Texting should not be the initial step in a relationship or the major means of communication, but should only be used to later improve the relationship once a face-to-face interaction and connection has already been established. Texting is not a stable foundation for a relationship and all connections need to include personal interaction with the other individual in real time face-to-face.

    -Jenna Coffey

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  2. Devina Mehta

    I actually feel the opposite way about texting than Jenna. I believe that if texting is going to be used during a relationship, it would be best for it to be used at the formation of a relationship. When a boy and girl first start talking it can be awkward and exciting all at the same time. I definitely agree with Will’s arguement. Texting allows couples to be able to get all of the weird and slightly awkward conversations out of the way before meeting in person. The pressure to say something the right way and to not scare the other person off is the highest at the beginning. Texting allows couples to get comfortable with talking to each other and eases the transition into talking face to face.

    However, I do not believe that texting should stay the primary method of communication for couples. It is a great buffer initially but as time goes on couples should be more comfortable with one another. After the first month or so I would begin to call my boyfriend more and more instead of texting him. Now, a year later, we barely text, unless i am in class or studying in the library. Sometimes couples can get too used to texting and have issues getting past the texting stage and onto the more personal connections. This is when couples would begin to develop real feelings and when real time face to face is more crucial in getting to know each other.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 4:05 pm | Reply


    I do not think that any kind of relationship should start with texting at all. If a boy cannot go up to a girl and talk to her than he does not deserve to have a relationship with her. Yeah, in the relationship they will be texting, but it should never start things off. So lets say that a boy does start off texting a girl for the first encounter, what about the next encounter? Now, they will need to talk, and it will be just as awkward as the first time. That’s why if someone really likes someone else, they should really show it and go up and start a conversation. If couples only focus on texting as their source of communicating, they will have serious problems when something like a fight occurs. People misread texts, and it only escalates the fight. There is no true way to show your emotions through text. I have been there, and the person on the other line thought that I meant something completely different than what the text was suppose to mean. Texting has its time and purpose, but for the serious parts of a relationship, it should not be there.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 11, 2011 @ 1:35 am | Reply

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