These are the confessions of a serial texter. I text all the time. I send off rapid-fire zingers, hit up my entire contact list to see what people’s poppin’ weekend plans are, and screw around figuring out what’s the weirdest word I can spell with the number eight. Friends who don’t have unlimited plans ignore me, or else they know they’ll get barraged. For a long time I’ve dreamed of a world where everything could be taken care of via text. Whether it’s scheduling a doctor’s appointment, managing job responsibilities, or ordering late-night delivery, I wish I could send a text for whatever I needed, receive a personalized confirmation, and not be bothered anymore. Dealing with stuff over the telephone takes forever. You have to call back, repeat yourself, spend time on hold, then make sure they get your zip code right. It’s the worst. Making phone calls is just so laborious.
And it was an afternoon like any other, when my friend Stephanie and I were trying to coordinate our plans for dinner — you know, some place close, but reasonably-priced, but not Italian, definitely a place with waiters, not a drab joint like Chili’s. I wasn’t sure what time and didn’t care about outdoor seating. Yeah, the place better serve booze. There were too many variables and we kept texting back and forth. My cellphone was vibrating so much it’s like it had the shakes. My thumbs were starting to bleed.
Then Stephanie texted: Just call me.
At first I was appalled. I mean, a phone call? What sacrilege! Using our voices to exchange actual words? We didn’t buy smartphones for this.
“Hey,” Stephanie said, once I rang her. “So for tonight.”
We asked concise questions, answered each other directly, were insistent and made concrete plans. It took less than five minutes. The impossible task of deciding where to dine was dealt with quickly and without fuss. After the phone call, we didn’t text anymore. And it felt nice to chop off that ongoing line of connection. Perhaps my serial texting is a bit of a time-waster, I thought. And recently I’ve been texting my friends: Just freaking call me!
It’s hard to pinpoint when the shift happened but it definitely did. For a lot of people I know — people in their 20s and 30s, almost all of whom own smartphones and don’t have landline connections in their homes — at some point, texting became our primary means of communication.
According to CTIA, an international organization that represents the wireless industry, there were 158.6 billion text messages sent in America in 2006. In 2011, there were 2.3 trillion. That’s an increase of almost 1,500 percent. Plotted out, the CTIA data shows an exponential increase. More info finds that the percentage of American households that have landlines is decreasing. This confirms what a lot of us already know: Texting is what’s up and phone calls are passé.
Texting is better because we can do it wherever — on the bus, during a meeting, or in an airplane even after they tell you to turn off “all electronic devices.” Texting allows us to carry on many conversations at once; it’s clear, quick, and let’s us use emoticons. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say going a whole day without talking on the phone is understandable, while going a whole day without texting is unimaginable. Phone calls are now outmoded and we try to avoid them. However, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss!
When a new piece of technology comes along, earlier technologies take on more of a niche role. For instance, in the 1950s, when TV viewing came to replace radio listening as the most popular form of home entertainment, radios didn’t go away. Although families now watched I Love Lucy on the tube instead of sitting around listening to Orson Welles narrate The Shadow, radios were still important. They played more music (since narrative shows were now within the domain of TV), were installed in cars, and used to communicate wonky political beliefs. Instead of finding a niche role for phone calls, however, we’re trying to discard them completely.
As a texting addict, I have to admit: While texting is great and lovely and awesome, it can lead to the most meandering, drawn-out, random-ass conversations ever, where we send messages back-and-forth without coherent communication. It also takes a while to express complex thoughts or deal with complicated situations like deciding where to dine. The niche role of phone calls, then, is that they allow for direct discussion and immediate problem-solving. They’re annoying but useful, I’d say. So the next time you text, What are your plans tonight? and your friend is like, Work sucks, and you reply, So tonight?, and your friend is like, Uggh, just give this friend a ringading and be like, “YO!” Your thumbs will thank you.