Sunday, 24 January 2010

Text Messages - the forgotten child of social media.


A few weeks back asked the question, to my boss, what were banks like before computers? I mean, were there just rows and rows of people "keeping books"? Did projects even exists? What did we do without powerpoint and spreadsheets? Anyway, after the slight chuckle, the response that I was to have was "different". Cant fault the honesty. However, I realised that I was not really asking one question about banks, I was really asking a much bigger question - what was my life like without computers and technology?

Over the last 15 - 20 years, the number of ways that we can communicate with eachother has increased dramatically - it is difficult to imagine staying in contact with my friends - JC (edinburgh), MP (manchester), PH/CM (Maidstone), C, K, CM (all belfast). Through facebook, mobile phones, emails etc they I never feel too far from any of them. Which is great. However, while in the shower, just after sending a text message, I thought about it. Blogs, facebook, emails are all hugely flexible - you can put up pictures, links, comments long or short, quiz's and so many other things. By comparison, the lowly text message seems a meagre offering for communication - I have heard of e-books, but no one yet has tried to market (as far as I am aware) a "text story" service where you get short stories sent out.

Anyway, while i washed my hair, I decided that this was something I should actually post about - usually i post about things that i find particularly emotive or interesting, but this is a rare opportunity to post about something I had barely registered a thought about before this morning. So, here I go...

1. The Joy of Text
I'll start with whats good. First of all, the convenience is obviously great - send them any time any where. They are also unobtrusive - someone can read them wherever the like. No shocks here.

However, something that I value more is that they are personal When I send a text message, I can imagine it being read in the most public of venues, but no one but the recipient reading it. In fact, I often say things in text messages that would be very difficult to say in person in public - for me there is something great about this. I rarely send a text message to anyone with out thinking where they may be when the read it - but that almost does not matter.

Also, another thing that I particularly love is the lack of context. More often than not, our conversations require some sort of context for them to be understood. By this I mean, we generally don't throw one liners into every day conversation with out making some sort of reference to what we are talking about. With sms text messages, all context often goes out the window. Because they are generally short (measured in characters, not words), I often forgo context and go straight to my point. Usually, some sort of comment or observation, generally unrelated to a previous conversation. The lack of context, often adds to the impact (humour, emotive, shocking) as it comes across as being out of the blue. This is very important to me - I like the fact that there is a medium available for me to communicate in that does not require me to be long winded.

2. But what do I use them for?
Including my work messages, about 20% of them are merely 'arranging' things. All I mean by this is meeting for lunch, confirming / rejecting some sort of meeting etc. The other 80% are usually me asking questions or giving an opinion. There is probably very little "fact" in a text message. Not that I am saying that I lie in them, but I dont use them to communicate the weather, time of day etc. I generally use them to express my opinion, emotion, feeling or, more often than not, some randon thought that flew into my head.

Again, what how would I have done this 15-20 years ago? Would all those random thoughts and opinions that I have and frequently send out to people have gone totally awol and never been heard? While that may be for the best, it would have been a shame had I not been able to send some of my more inspired messages.

3. Honesty is the best policy
Finally, the one big thing I get out of text messages is about how honest I get to be in them. The fact that I am usually restricted to a few hundred characters usually forces me to restrict myself to the truth. In a strange way, i find the restriction liberating. Combine this with the fact that I am usually not staring the person in the face when i send the message (ine recent exception to this - C!), it is easier to be honest. This is a reason why I feel, quite sincerely, that text messages is one of the most interesting and engaging way to communicate with people.


Bit of an odd post this one, but once I started thinking about text messages, it would not go away. The point that I am making is that there are few other ways I have of communicating with people who are important to me that allows me to be honest, personal, truthful and immediate as a text message. Why I didnt realise this before now is surprising - who would have thought I had such a love for the simplest method of communicating available. Even my old motorola phone could send a text message.

So, one cheer for the not so mighty text message.



PS I would also say that text messages are one of the more memorable types of message - I have plenty of memorable text messages, and not many emails.

1 comment:

  1. All true of course, but they do drag new methods of social embarrassment in their wake. In the wee hours of the last weekend one of my texts got sent - twice - to my boyfriend's parents' landline, causing all manner of worried confusion. Had to apologise the next day via a good old-fashioned phone call.