Feb 3, 2009

Texting: Con

by Tim Mattingly

Often referred to as “cellular pigeoning,” the act of text messaging globally grips the thumbs of mankind in a figurative Chinese finger death trap of communication. However, it is not my intent to dissuade society from such an act. The fact is, I would have more luck convincing a blind kitten to swim across the English Channel.

Instead, this article is a caveat, a grim cautioning of sorts against the dangers of text messaging. Diabolical digits pressed against plastic symbols can become like scissors severing the marionette strings of our lives. There are dangers to text messaging that everyone should be aware of.

The ever-present temptation to text behind the wheel can turn from distraction to destruction in an instant. Every year, there is an average of 300,000 cell-phone related car accidents and 2,600 deaths, according to AAA statistics.

Furthermore, text messaging was proven to inhibit driving more than drinking or smoking marijuana, according to a Motor Authority article. The publication cites UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, which claims texting reduces driver reaction time by 35 percent. This dwarfs alcohol’s 12 percent and cannabis’ 21 percent.

Still, it is useless to deny the communicating benefits offered by text messaging. This cellular sensation is perfect for short and direct communication. But trouble is born when text messages breech the boundaries of simple and enter into the realm of complex meaning.
“Surprisingly, your words carry only seven percent of the meaning of a communication,” Dr. Daneen Skube said in a Seattle Times article. “Your tone of voice is 38 percent and your body language carries a shocking 55 percent of your content.”

In text message communication, individuals are not only limited by this seven percent statistic, but also by the fact they must convey a message with a mere 160 characters, the text message maximum, at their disposal.

To darken this statistical storm cloud hovering overhead, around the calendar bend waits the official day of meaningful and complex text messages. Valentine’s Day draws nigh and with it, a mountain of misunderstood text messages. A friendly, “Will you be my valentine,” text message can easily be taken many different ways. A misconstrued message can drop like mortar shells, crippling a relationship.

Without body language or tone of voice to go on, a message’s meaning is left to the imagination. Yet there is a way to ward off unwanted translations — the smiley face. This small symbol can be created with two simple characters but it possesses the power to manipulate meaning. For example, a mean and hurtful, “I hate you,” message instantly becomes jovial and friendly by simply adding a smile at the end of it. Still, the smiley face has its limits.

“Sometimes people use cute symbols or abbreviations to represent emotion … but this doesn’t substitute for tone of voice or body language,” Skube warns.

However, the worst text message is the one you do not send. A mischievous message sent by a roommate, friend or family member, at the best, causes confusion and at worst, causes pain. The trouble with texting is the ease of which an intrusive third party can pick up a stray cell phone and cause complete pandemonium.

Ultimately, a blind kitten will never swim the English Channel without assistance. Just as society will never break its addiction to text messaging without receiving serious help and quite possibly electroshock therapy. Until that day comes, exercise caution and smiley faces.

Contact Tim Mattingly at


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