According to a recent survey by OpenMarket, 75 percent of millennials chose texting over talking when given the choice between being able only to text vs. call on their mobile phone. To be sure, the powerful digital devices almost everyone is carrying around these days have changed the art of human conversation and the way we relate to each other — and not for the better.
When I was in high school my mother encouraged me to take a typewriting course, thinking it would benefit me in my working life. I don’t know how many words I can type per minute, but I’m able to put my thoughts onto the screen rapidly by using almost all my fingers on the keyboard. The arrangement of the keys on a computer keypad is a legacy of the typewriter, which was invented in the 1870s. The typewriter eventually replaced messy quill pens and paper pads and greatly improved the efficiency of the businesspeople and writers who learned how to use it.
Now we are abandoning an 1870s invention to revert to text messages that we awkwardly compose with opposable thumbs. Mark Twain used his typewriter to create long, eloquent sentences in his memoir “Life on the Mississippi,” but now humans use texting to bastardize the human language with abbreviated statements that would embarrass a Neanderthal. “Thag no like text. LOL. :)”
Psychologists say texting can cause “infomania,” which Dictionary.com. defines as “an obsessive need to constantly check emails, social media, online news, etc.” Because it causes individuals to “lose concentration as their minds remain fixed in an almost permanent state of readiness to react to technology,” infomania can actually cause you to temporarily lose twice as many IQ points as smoking marijuana.
When I was growing up, the telephone that hung on our kitchen wall was the source of many long conversations. When it rang everyone in the house was excited to pick it up to chat with whomever was calling. Now, many people prefer to not answer their mobile phones because they don’t want to be burdened by conversing with another human being.
Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco talks about how excited his family used to get 20 years ago when the doorbell rang, and how different our reaction is now. Like Maniscalco’s family, my siblings and I loved the sound of the doorbell ringing as friends and neighbors dropped in. Our mom would break out the coffee cake she saved for visitors. Our home took on a festive spirit as storytelling and laughter broke out.
Now what happens if someone has the gall to ring your doorbell, asks Maniscalco? People turn off the lights, pull down the blinds and pretend they’re not home. Before email and texting became the default modes of communicating, there were multiple opportunities to greet and converse with our fellow human beings face-to-face. We’d cheerfully talk about the weather or sports or just “shoot the bull.” We’d use facial expressions and hand gestures to emphasize our points. The act of chatting in person was enriching.
Now the art of conversation is dying out because we’ve reduced it to a form of two-dimensional communication that only requires you to tap a dozen letters on your smartphone. That’s a regrettable trend — or, if you prefer, nothing to “ROTFL” about. For the text-averse, ROTFL means “roll on the floor laughing.”
Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.