Texting: The Death of Conversation?

Courtesy of Rick Janacek

Will phone conversations or even face-to-face conversations become obsolete? The telephone enabled people to talk to each other without seeing each other.  Now texting and instant messaging enable people to talk to each other without hearing each other. Why do people need to talk when they can just text?

I first realized that live conversation could be endangered when I tried to contact my cousin. We try to talk on the telephone every few weeks. However, trying to reach her is always difficult. She rarely answers her phone and often takes a week or more to respond to voice mails. However, I receive responses within an hour if I text her.


I recently tried an experiment. I called her cell phone. As usual, she did not answer. So, I texted her and – within in one minute – she responded. We spent the next hour texting back and forth. Not one to two sentences, but four to five paragraphs of text each time. It took much longer to type than talk!

Research points out that my cousin is not alone. A Pew Internet Research Center survey conducted in 2012 found that texting is the first communication choice for teens. 63% of those surveyed say they exchange text messages every day with people in their lives, and the median number of texts sent on a typical day by teens rose to 60 in 2011. But it’s not just teenagers; adults are also texting at a rapid pace. The media research firm, Nielsen Co., conducted an analysis of cellphone bills for the Wall Street Journal in 2010 and found that people from ages 45 to 54 sent and received more than 300 text messages a month – ten a day!

My Take

Texting is a very intrusive medium that grabs people’s attention. It also makes it possible for people to send messages in meetings and classrooms without disturbing the proceedings.  It’s “background communication,” i.e., something you can do while you’re occupied with more important things. However:

  • It distracts the sender and often leaves the receiver befuddled.
  • The absence of sight and sound strip much of the emotional content from communication. It’s hard to tell whether a person is joking, cynical, angry, confused or serious. So I lose the nuances of seeing someone’s expression or hearing their inflection.
  • The texter may be juggling five other “conversations” simultaneously. That makes me feel less important.  A proxy experience has replaced personal contact.

Texts have all the charm of a telegraph. Stop.

But texting does have a place. Communicating successfully requires the ability to master each medium and know when and how to use them to convey your message. As a linguist at Fordham University stated in a recent article in the Huffington Post, texting “is an art that can be as valuable as good writing.” How you use that skill determines whether you will be an effective communicator or just someone lost inside your own smartphone.

Courtesy of Rick Janacek