Truth in Text
Charles McGrath puts it this way in this week's New York Times Magazine:
This may be the universal attraction of text-messaging, in fact: it's a kind of avoidance mechanism that preserves the feeling of communication - the immediacy - without, for the most part, the burden of actual intimacy or substance. The great majority of text messages are of the "Hey, how are you, whassup?" variety, and they're sent sometimes when messenger and recipient are within speaking distance of each other - across classrooms, say, or from one row of a stadium to another. They're little electronic waves and nods that, just like real waves and nods, aren't meant to do much more than establish a connection - or disconnection, as the case may be - without getting into specifics.Like Charles McGrath, I feel that it's just a bunch of waves and nods, without substance. Waves and nods are great for when you're really tired or in a rush or just trying to maintain a connection with someone who, because of geographic distance, you only get to see once or twice a year. But for it to be the main connection between two people--the stuff over which you become friends--seems kind of ludicrous to me. I actually don't think I could really become good friends with someone over the phone either. I guess I really do need some minimal amount of face time or shared experience/history to become good friends with someone.
I do think that e-mail is different, at least if the correspondents are both decent writers. That, at least, hearkens back to the days when people maintained friendships through the exchange of letters, which is a time-honored tradition. I think that e-mail exchanges can deepen a friendship the way that IMing and instant messaging never can. (I can't believe I just used the word "hearken.")
I also wonder if this is a generational thing or a gender thing. It may be at least partly true that younger people (younger than 26, that is) and that (at least some) men* are less disturbed by the lack of connection, intimacy, or substance in many forms of electronic communication than, say, I am.
*Note that I am not conflating young people and men. Their only commonality seems to be that they are less disturbed by how much human communication--important, essential human communication--people attempt to conduct through instant messaging or text messaging these days.