Texting - Smoke Signals of the Digital Age

Texting – Smoke Signals of the Digital Age


Texting has become the default method of communicating these days, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s about as useful as smoke signals.


Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe I am misguided. Maybe I don’t understand. Maybe I just don’t get it…

In the 1970s if you told people that someday magnetized analog audio 8-track and cassette tapes would be replaced by digital ones and zeroes pinging around inside a silicon microchip… in the 1980s if you told the workers at Kodak that celluloid film would die a painful death at the hands of digital photo and video… or that facsimile machines would be replaced by PDF files cruising through high speed cable lines… they would not have believed you.

All this to say that I believe that by the year 2040 people will look back on text messaging in the same manner that anthropologists look back on smoke signals. Texting may seem wonderful for the occasional brief note to instantly reschedule a meeting in your crazybusy life, but it actually often engenders ambiguity and confusion by failing to convey essential nuances such as disappointment, hope, irony, sadness, elation.

Text messaging is an absolutely terrible means of communicating emotions WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF TEXTING ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS (a.k.a. “shouting”) — LOL!, DUH!, sideways smiley faces, and multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have witnessed countless patients have important relationships destroyed by miscommunications caused by texting and what I refer to as “sub-texting.” Sub-texting is the tacit information given and the rampant misinterpretations of that information — namely the response time between text messages.

When you stand in front of a fellow human being and look into his or her eyes, you get a tremendous amount of information and you receive that information in real time; when you speak with someone on the telephone you can hear his or her breathing, you can feel the rhythm and tone of his or her voice, and get a general feeling of what that person’s current disposition or emotional state is. Are they frantic, discombobulated, out-of-sorts, out-of-their-heads? Or are they serene, calm, composed, lucid, empathetic, thinking clearly?

All of this is completely lost while texting. You have no idea if the other person is sitting on the toilet, driving furiously, smoking crack, gently massaging their wrists with a razor, having sex (yes, 25 percent of teenagers recently reported texting while having sex), throwing a tantrum, in a very important meeting, throwing a tantrum in a very important meeting, or in a yoga class (yes, I watched an actress negotiate filming a nude scene via text message while in Warrior II — completely surreal yet somehow remotely acceptable at Maha Yoga)… and during every second that you wait for a response your mind tries to assemble a scenario of the other person’s current reality from the blurry pixelated puzzle pieces of your text message conversation and the time it takes for them to respond. You wonder, “Is my wife really shopping at Whole Foods or is she screwing her tennis coach again? I thought that was over. Why is it taking her so long to text back???”

To my friends and recent girlfriends (too many of whom have ended our relationship via text message or what is known as here in Hell-A as the “FADE OUT,” which is when they slowly stop returning messages and like a frog being boiled alive you end up scalded by the silence) I have made very specific requests: Please only text me for one of two reasons:

1. Egregious flirting. For example, “Ira, you’re super cool!” “You’re magic!” “You’re dreamy!” “You’re hugely gorgeous!” “You’re both dope, fresh and rad!” “I miss you!” “When can I see you again?”

2. Emergencies. For example, “Dude, I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 35 years and I still can’t calculate traffic into the equation. My GPS told me I would be there three months ago. I’m sorry I’m late. Dinner is on me.”

However… I have witnessed potential partners have entire one-sided passive-aggressive conversations and self-implode like Jon Favreau in “Swingers” via text message on my oh-so smart phone… I have watched vacations in Paris spontaneously combust via text messaging on my oh-so smart phone… worse, I have had imminent threesomes float off into the ether never to be seen again thanks to text messaging on my oh-so smart phone…

All joking aside, trying to communicate anything of note via text message equals one thing: fear of intimacy. Anyone who can’t pick up the phone or look you in the eye when conveying vital information suffers from a dreadful fear of abandonment which manifests as a fear of intimacy. That’s why they like to keep everything vague — so that it appears more like Steve Jobs’ “Reality Distortion Field” than an outright lie when they preemptively flake on you (before you can even think of flaking on or abandoning them).

After ten years and thousands of texts, I feel comfortable saying that the deficits outweigh the benefits regarding text messaging.

By now you’ve read or heard about Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book “The Myths of Happiness” so you know that most of the things you learned growing up in America will unequivocally NOT bring you happiness — right? Once you are above the survival level — and if you are reading this article in your home or office and didn’t drag your pilfered three-wheel shopping cart from Venice Beach to the library this morning to shower in the bathroom sink, then you are probably doing better than just surviving — THE ONLY THING THAT CORRELATES STRONGLY WITH HAPPINESS IS THE QUALITY OF OUR INTIMATE FACE-TO-FACE RELATIONSHIPS.

If you set your iPhone on the sink or toilet when you take a shower, then it is safe to say that technology is no longer your friend.

Facebooking and Tweeting delude people into believing they are engaging in relationships. But face it: nobody is ever going to receive a hug or pat on the back through a video screen. We need eye contact, we need to break bread with other human beings, we need touch, we need to practice the dying art of conversation, we need face-to-face empathy, love, and compassion to get all of those mirror neurons firing again…

Oh yeah, anyone notice the massive rise in depression, alienation, and isolation, or the 100 million prescriptions for anti-depressants written every year in this country of 314 million people? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence…

All of the preceding to explain why today I eliminated text messaging from my mobile telephone.

I want to rob people of the ability of rescheduling via text message when I’m already sitting at the restaurant; I want to eliminate the possibility of a future girlfriend breaking up with me via text message or by FADE OUT. It’s too easy. It’s too impersonal. It’s like assassinating someone by drone rather than knife and having his blood spurt all over you.

Horrendous improprieties and flagrantly inconsiderate behaviors have become tolerated due to text messaging and micro-scheduling. It is time that we realize that all of this multi-tasking — texting multiple people while monitoring Tweets and Facebook feeds while watching marathons of “Breaking Bad” while eating Chipotle take-out while paying credit card minimums online while checking World of Warcraft scores while skimming Youporn to see if you recognize anyone from Spring Break isn’t making anyone happy. Except possibly Time Warner Cable and its shareholders.

Most of you are too young to remember the famous line from Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network”: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Well, you can call me Howard Beale if you like.

But you will no longer be able to text it to me.

LOL!!!!!!!! :-)

Ira IsraelLos Angeles psychotherapist and counselor Ira Israel is an LMFT, LPCC and Certified Yoga Therapist. He has graduate degrees in psychology, philosophy and religious studies and leads “Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga” workshops at the Esalen Institute. He is the author of several books on anxiety, depression and yoga. For more information, please visit: Optimum Integral Wellness.
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One thought on “Texting – Smoke Signals of the Digital Age

  1. Hello Ira,
    Completely agree on texting in ANY relationship: it does not convey the full message. It is kind of difficult to answer a text about how my day was.
    I guess, we tend to take the easy way out whenever possible. Texting gives us an illusion of keeping in touch. I also think that texting in relationship sends a strong message to the other person that you really don’t care and it distances you from the person further and further.
    I hope those who text their “friends” can find a few minutes to actually call members of their families.
    Thanks for the article.

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