By Beth J.P. Ritter
As much as I love the written word, there is something really lord-awful that happens to it in a phone text. Fraught with misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and misspellings, these “live letters,” can get us into trouble; unwittingly piss someone off, say the wrong thing or word, if you use your microphone and can’t see to check what it said for you— what it thinks you said. (It was Mark Twain who pointed out that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug!) And, for we of the middle-aged-plus persuasion, texting often means straining our eyes to both see and type—especially if we’re too lazy to take out our glasses. Or, outdoors with the sun shining, holding something without the benefit of a third hand.
There are times I will do a quick, untrusting check after I’ve spoken my text, and, horrified, say aloud, “No, no, that’s not what I said!” And quickly change it. If it hasn’t sent already. Nothing like seeing it’s too late. But then, I might at some point view the typo from my “correction,” and embarrassed, see in my mind’s eye the other person laughing at my seeming inability to spell. (Like they never make a mistake in a text. Right.) Here, in fact, is where some of us take our secret spelling snobbery to a whole new level: decide that people we previously thought of as bright, write like second grade drop-outs. What’s with all the lower case? I grow weary, too, sometimes, of the abbreviations, like, “ur” for “your.” In all fairness, the more relaxed, cooler texters may just want old people like me to relax. “Abbreviate! You can do it!” Not so sadly, I can’t.
Sometimes, I’m given to ask, “Um…could you call me, so we can have an old-fashioned conversation?” There are enough crossed signals in that alone. But waiting for the third part of a text which will often be out of sequence reminds me I’m glad I didn’t have this text thing option until my older years. Too confusing. Waiting for the other person to answer, which might be five hours later. Or, doing that myself. It’s accepted rudeness, permission to respond to something which was asked the day before. Is this because it’s not normal conversation? Can you imagine, over the phone, asking, “How was the party?” and the person on the other end not answering for five hours, because, busy, he put the receiver down? How many times have you heard an insulted friend complain, “So-and-so never answered me! I don’t know if she got my text!” (So-and-so of course claimed that she never got the text; the friend is very tempted to confiscate and check her phone.) I have, more than once, witnessed someone send a text that was not received.
Texting’s an anxiety-provoking means of communication, as per the common quandary: how do you know when it’s the last text? In a regular conversation, you know when it’s over. But is answering Joe’s last text annoying—or polite? If he says, “thanks,” do you need to say, “You’re welcome?” (or—ugh— “ur wlcome?”) If you do, does that then obligate Joe to answer with an emoticon, such as :)? Or, “nite?” What is the proper text etiquette here? What about just saying, “Over!” as on a walkie-talkie (which would probably be shortened to “ovr”)? Then the other person knows you not only don’t require an answer, but you’d prefer to be done with all this eye-straining, confusing exchange. So far, it’s not looking hopeful. Any more so than the person across from you in a diner won’t grab her bell-dinging phone, glance at it, laugh, and type away in the middle of your sentence, as if you just disappeared into your coffee. These sure are rude times we’re living in. Maybe we need to have classes in Text Etiquette. But who would teach them? Can you picture the teacher, in the front of the room, going over all of her currently-acceptable-text-etiquette curriculum, when suddenly her phone buzzes? “Excuse me,” she says, and, squinting at her phone, starts typing. “It’s my brother. He’s so….. funny….” As her voice trails off, she reads her phone, almost in a trance, squints harder, and holds it now at arm’s distance. “I’ll just be a… moment…” at which point the rest of her text-addicted class takes out their phones and frantically uses this opportunity to catch up with every text they’ve missed in the last withdrawal-filled twenty minutes. C U Later.