You’d expect that the most common sight I see on the George Mason University campus is Patriot green & gold. It isn’t. I walk from class to class, I run around covering stories, and the sight more common than a sea of school colors is a sea of thumbs fidgeting furiously with a mobile phone.
I’m sure some of them are smartphones – probably a lot of them, really – and I’ll grant they may be checking Twitter or Facebook or an ESPN app. But I feel like I can say (with confidence) that seven times out of 10, the pair of thumbs I see is probably sending a text. It makes me wonder what people are saying. And since you may be one of those numbers, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the appropriateness of content in text form.
We’re building a habit—texting is becoming a norm for our communication, and I worry. Sometimes, it’s just not the best way to say something. It’s not always, well, humanly appropriate. Here are my thoughts on the subject, from both observation and, yes, experience.
Hey where u at
Appropriateness: Awesome. Perfect. This is what texting is for: communicating short info, like where a roommate is, quickly and efficiently.
Sorry missed call. In class. What up?
Appropriateness: Yes! You got this. Another great example—you should definitely text when calling isn’t an option. (Some professors may not like you for this, but meh, if you’re subtle, it’s often better than screwing around on a laptop).
Reminder: Our group meets @ Mason statue @ 2.
Appropriateness: Yeah, sure. If the person you’re sending it to is forgetful. I kind of hope that people are good at keeping track of their schedule (Google Cal and reminders all the way, folks) but yeah, sure.
Hey think ur getting groceries. If so, don’t forget the milk, bro.
Appropriateness: Sure. Calling works for this too though. Simple requests are good, they can save time. They can also get excessive.
Hey what you doing Sat night
Appropriateness: Err… Context? This could be peachy keen, or a big no-no. Who are you sending something so ambiguous to? A girl you’ve been hanging out with who may not know where your “friendship” sits? Think about this one. Content can’t always speak to tone or inflection.
Hey we need to talk
Appropriateness: Nope. Nope, thinking this can’t be good. This is either entirely misleading, or doesn’t help solve your problem. With some exception, notifying someone via text that you need to have “a talk” often causes stress and anxiety. Most situations can wait until you can physically talk to that recipient. If not, call them.
Something I’ve been wanting to tell you… i love u.
Appropriateness: Oh hell no. Why would you do that? Worse than notifying someone of an impending conversation of emotional concern via text is using pixels of words (and even emoticons) to actually try to convey them. Sorry, however comforting, there’s just little chance you’re going to get the response you want. Most what you want to say is probably said by your body, and written all over your face, not just some data on a screen. Also, do you really want to gamble and risk a sub-discussion on “Did you really have to text me that?”
Hey mom, went to ER. Don’t worry though.
Appropriateness: . . . Texts are short. Some situations can’t be explained in short form. Ones that involve physical harm, those need to take the long-form. They need explaining. They need to be expressed in a setting where there can be immediate back and forth. And hold up, don’t think that means Facebook chat is fair game either. If something involves how you’re physically or mentally doing, people want to judge from all their senses, or at least as many as they can. Please give a call or Skype.
And now I leave you with the golden text. Remember it, write it down, save it as a quick key or something.
Can you call when you get a chance?
Appropriateness: You can’t go wrong with this. When thinking about sending a text, for the future’s sake, judge the purpose of it. If you need to get a simple piece of information that doesn’t demand an immediate response, or if calling isn’t an option because of the situation you’re in, that’s when texting works best. All other times, I suggest fighting the urge—dial a number and just call. If you can’t reach them, ask them to reach you.
(Caveat: I say all this, but don’t you dare leave me a voicemail. Why couldn’t you text me “call me” or you’re the nuts and bolts of your message? I’d save like three minutes.)