Diluted relationships

In our fast-paced world, texting is taking the place of face-to-face social encounters and devaluing our relationships. - AFP Photo

When people communicate with gadgets, rather than face-to-face; we increase the quantity, but perhaps not the quality, of our interactions.

I DON’T want to say something that is so painfully apparent that I get labelled as Captain Obvious, or even worse, as Admiral Apparent; but technology is changing the way we live.

Thank you, Ensign Evident.

Specifically, the way we socially interact is changing, and I’m not talking about our friendships on your favourite social media network. A recent study in the United States showed that more and more people are using their phones not to actually talk to anyone but to text.

The ratio of texts to phone calls was 5-1. In fact, texting is becoming the preferred method to ask someone out. That should come as no surprise, as the alternatives of the awkward phone call, or worse – the sweaty, white-knuckled face-to-face ask-out – are just terrible options; so terrible that it’s a wonder humans could even reproduce prior to the text message.

About one third of those surveyed said that they prefer to ask the person they are interested in to meet in a group setting, rather than meeting for a one-on-one traditional date.

The rationale, besides the obviousness of it being less awkward, is that if they don’t click, they will waste less time, as opposed to several hours on a date.

Which makes it seem that people are like paperbacks which should be judged by their synopsis before one commits to spend time with that person.

But why is texting becoming the way that we socially interact? It seems like the refuge of the introvert, but it’s so widespread that it can’t just be introverts who are choosing this method of communication. Extroverts – those assertive bold individuals that crave and seem to thrive off human interaction – must also be texting, even if it seems to go against their nature.

Why is this? The advantage to texting, even if you’re an extrovert, is that you engage others on your own time and pace. The great thing about texts is you can take the time to get it right, whereas in a face-to-face encounter, the right words may only come at the end of the conversation.

Also, phone calls and speaking face-to-face have the problem where you actually have to listen to the other person, you know ... talk. Even that takes time.

In a text message, first off, most people won’t send you a life story via text. Secondly, if you see a message more than a sentence long, you can simply skim it, or not read it at all and fire back an emoticon.

Not sure what to say? Or didn’t even bother reading? Send that smiley with the grimace, it’s emotionally ambiguous.

If people were telling a happy story, this Swiss army knife of emoticons looks sufficiently pleasant that they’ll think you get it; if the story was tragic, it looks dissatisfied enough that they’ll think you empathise with them. Emoticons are the inauthentic, ineffectual, pre-packaged greeting cards of text messaging.

Does this mean texting is making us all into self-centered introverts? Yes it does.

There’s no other way around it. If texting takes the edge off asking people for dates and conversing, it also takes the edge off rejecting people.

It’s hard to say “no” to someone face-to-face, but over a text message, it’s easy. That’s why there’re so many confrontational people in online forums and message boards on the Internet.

How many people do you argue with in real life? And how many people do you argue with online? If you’re sucked into actually commenting on the Internet, you’ll probably end up arguing with everyone!

If texting makes it easier to interact because the weight of interaction is reduced, it also makes our relationships more fleeting. Take for instance an interaction I had the other night on Steam, a gaming platform. I logged on with a couple of friends to get some online gaming going on. One of them introduced me to a friend, and we added him to our party.

Now when I say introduced, I mean he typed “My friend wants to play”, and he then popped up on the messaging service and said, “Hi”. That was it. He was in.

One of my friends just disappeared – went AFK or “Away From Keyboard” – something that probably wouldn’t happen in real life. It’s not like we’d agree to play squash and then somebody just walked away without telling us, that would be rude. But online, it was accepted.

Then my other friend had trouble with his computer and had to reboot. I ended up playing with the friend of a friend, who I didn’t know at all, except that we’d said hello.

Now that is the great thing about the Internet and texting. We started playing and it was fine, communicating like we knew each other, polite laughter and all. Halfway through the game, I started having trouble with my connection, and thinking it might be a sign (to perhaps go off and write this article!), I exited the game without bothering to sign back in and give an explanation to my new “friend”.

I too had just walked out of the squash game with no explanation, because I knew it wouldn’t really bother the stranger I’d been playing with, and I’m sure it didn’t bother him.

Communicating via text is great, it’s easy, it puts things on our own terms. But maybe human relations were never meant to be that simple, and ultimately, relationships are reciprocal – we get out of them what we put in, and if all we put in are text messages ... then that’s really all we’ll get back.

Jason Godfrey can be seen hosting The LINK on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728).

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