Thursday, September 29, 2011

Texting Vs. the Phone: How Focusing on Surface Differences Doesn't Help You Date Better

Over at the blog Dating Diva, Toni writes about a past relationship with a guy who loved to text her. And who chose not to use the phone. I have noticed that there seems to be a fair amount of angst around this particular phenomenon, some of which I feel sympathy with. However, I also wonder if the conclusions being drawn are sometimes entirely too broad sweeping.

Here are some of Toni's comments:

Looking back, I see that relationship as the embodiment of how technology is slowly killing romance. It's draining the courting out of courtship. And frankly, I'm ready to hit "delete" on the whole thing.
A flirtatious text here and there is fine, but a text of more than 100 characters? That's overkill. Call me old-fashioned, but I wonder what's so "advanced" about these so- called advancements in communication. The same gadgets that allow you to be in touch all the time sometimes mask the fact that you never really touched at all.
My friends tell me to get over it (most via email or text - hmmmm) they say texting is a way of life. I say sure - I agree sometimes I'd rather not be bothered talking on the phone but a text or an email cannot replace the human voice or touch.

Now, first off, as a non-cell phone owner who hasn't texted in his life, I can relate to her questioning the value of such technology.

At the same time, as I wrote in my comment on her blog:

The phone was considered in almost exactly the same negative light as texting and e-mailing are back in the day. During the early days of phones, people frequently called it "the Devil's tool" and other unsavory names. And certainly, when it came to romance, it was considered a lazy substitute for a well written letter, song, or poem.

To me, it's about how someone engages a relationship that matters most. I'm guessing texter dude just wasn't that engaged. I've known plenty of people who've had similarly dis-engaged relationships that centered around phone calls.

On a few other blogs, I have seen people offer a somewhat different, but almost equally broad view of texters. Basically, these folks argue that anyone who uses texting as a the main form of communication when you're not together "really isn't that into you." A point which I think is total bs. Not because it's never true, but because people are privileging one form of technology - the phone - over another (the text box on a phone), thinking that someone calling you is somehow more loving, intimate, and demonstrating of interest.

As a frequent public transit user, I have witnessed thousands of phone conversations, many of them obviously to a partner or significant other. Flipping your phone out while on a bus or train is nothing special, and in fact, seems to be a favorite past time of people who desire to stave off boredom and who aren't interested in talking to the strangers sitting right next to them. I see the same thing happening at coffee shops, cafes, and all sorts of other places. And yet, because the phone has become naturalized in our psyches, some of us seem to think that using it often to call another is a sign of interest, romance, and even love.

The reality, though, is that it's can never just about phone use or texting. It's always about how someone engages a relationship as a whole that really matters.

Take that bus ride. Maybe the guy I'm sitting next to really loves his girlfriend, and he's calling her to check in and see how her day has gone. Then there's the guy sitting behind us who is doing the same exact thing - calling the girlfriend - but is doing so because there is 30 minutes left before his stop and he's tired of looking out the window. On the surface, they both would appear to some folks to be taking care of the relationship, but if you move below the surface, you'll see that only one is actually doing so.

Creating romance or demonstrating interest are not about surface appearances. In fact, I'd argue that because every person is unique, the ways one goes about creating romance and/or demonstrating interest will be at least someone different with each new partner. It's amazing to me how often people seem to forget this, while also at the same time demanding to be viewed themselves as unique individuals. Just goes to show how challenging it can be to see the world outside of your own head.


  1. I'm so glad you addressed this. I think it's really just a difference in communication styles that's exacerbated by the change from phone to text as perhaps a primary method of communication, and just as you mentioned in the early days of the telephone, a lot of people are resistant. In the scheme of things, it's really a small thing.

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  2. I love texting as a means of communication. I freaking hate phone calls as a way of keeping in touch on a regular basis. Everyone (myself included) is always on the run. So you have to schedule a phone call. Then drop everything, sit someplace quiet and take it. I tried wearing a Bluetooth and going about my household chores as I talked, and the guys were always "what's that noise in the background?" uhhh, forget it. Then my accent comes into the picture. Guy makes me repeat everything twice. How romantic, LOL. I'd take texting over this anytime. Works for most of the people I date. Only guy it didn't work for, was ten years older than me (54) and liked to refer to himself as old-school - you know the type - doesn't have Facebook, doesn't know anything about "those computers" and is proud of it... he was very anti-texting.

    I agree, not a big deal and not rude in and of itself. Whatever works best for both people involved.

    Since you mention public places, I'd rather have someone texting next to me on a bus or in a coffee shop than someone having a full-volume phone conversation! :)

    PS. Great blog. I am really enjoying it. Bonus points for having the courage to blog about dating. I'd be too chicken to talk about that where my friends, family and coworkers could see. Weird, I know.

  3. Goldie,

    Thanks for the compliment. With this blog being linked into my Facebook page, I really can't hide, lol.

    Anyway, I totally agree about texting vs. calling in public - especially on a bus or train, where people can't get away from you. It just seems disrespectful to me to be talking at full volume on a phone while sitting in a crowd of people.

  4. I also HATE talking on the phone unless I'm in a mood to do so, which is rare. I text so I can stay actively engaged - I'd rather be checking in often throughout the day (which I can with texting) than have one conversation a day via phone. Not even a question.

  5. Personally, I prefer a telephone conversation, for several reasons.

    The biggest is just that I prefer long conversations, and actually feel quite neglected if I don't get that type of contact on a fairly regular basis (I suppose that makes me quite "high-maintenance" in emotional/time concerns).

    Also, I find with any text medium that I really do miss having the non-verbal cues to understand what is being meant; with telephone, you at least have the vocal, though not visual, elements as well.

    Texting is great for just little "thinking of you" reminders and such, or coordinating various kinds of things, but for me personally it's not a substitute for speaking on the phone, it's an augmentation.

    I guess the point behind this is that the significance depends on the relationship: if someone insisted on using text instead of phone with me, then I would think that did mean they weren't that into me, because they weren't willing to relate to what I needed. Equally, if someone much prefers text to phoning, and their partner won't budge on the issue, that's a bad sign. If I were with someone who preferred primarily text comms, then I would try to oblige, but I would need her to give back by talking on the phone sometimes too (maybe even just rehashing what we texted about during the day, as a recap, but it would make me happier).

  6. Hi Nathan,

    I am at a loss at this one, because even though I acknowledge the transformations and media in communicating I have been subjected by text message from guys just to keep me hanged without actually moving forward or just when he wants to interact. Like what the concept of e-maintaining here means:

    In my experience if someone is interested he will call and want to see me also.

  7. Leeluh,

    Well, I'm not a texter either, so I'm going off what others have told me. But I hear a lot of different stories, including ones like you point to. I do think some people use texting as a lazy way to hang on to others. And maybe it's a little easier than using the phone to do so, but I still think that phone calls aren't necessarily any better of an indicator of interest. Not when millions of people have cell phones flipped on at all hours of the day and night.

    Snowdrop - I agree that if someone insists on solely using a form of communication that goes against your preferred form, and you've already requested a compromise, then something is off. To me, that lack of supporting the needs of the other is a much clearer sign.

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