Text messages are, naturally, indispensable. It could be argued that the ability to exchange text messages is a major marker of our development as human beings (insert emoji of your choice).
Instant communication has transformed the way we interact in our personal and professional lives. We have evolved to meet the changing world but there are times when it really is better to make a phone call rather than text a message.
When to text
Billions of texts are sent every day. Not all of them will say what the sender intended. It’s easy to get things wrong.
Text messages which hit the right note tend to be those which exchange clear-cut information. Practical arrangements, instructions, short observations are likely to be fine. Other types of communication are more likely to miss the mark and prompt misunderstanding and negative reactions.
Not everyone is comfortable with written expression. At school you may have struggled with concepts of vocabulary, tone, nuance, subtext, context, and looked forward to the day when you wouldn’t be required to write so much.
Yet here you are, possibly making up and writing more sentences in a day than you would have in a week. You don’t think about it, because lots of messages are repetitive, and spellchecks and a predictive text facility take care of the basics.
But when we stray outside everyday, familiar territory, it’s not so easy. You might receive a text that makes you feel irritated or uncomfortable, although the actual message is harmless. You might feel that a word you are using isn’t quite right, but it’s the one that was suggested and it will do…
Advantages of a phone call
HEARING A VOICE
The sound of a person’s voice tells us so much about their thoughts and feelings. After a few moments, you can tell if someone is distracted, or a bit below par, or full of energy.
You can sense the hesitation which means that your friend needs to think about a suggestion, say, even if their words indicate agreement. You can hear that your mother isn’t well, even when she claims to be in robust health. A text message wouldn’t reveal these things.
It’s also much more personal. Hearing someone speak makes you so much more aware of their presence and individuality than gazing at their words on your phone.
VARIETY OF TONE
In a conversation, you can speak with and respond to nuances, hints, implications. A light-hearted, playful tone indicates that your words are intended to be heard in that way.
When you initiate a conversation, your tone of voice signals what kind of conversation it will be, and alerts the other person to some serious stuff, or puts them in the mood for a good chat. If you need to change the mood of a conversation, you can use pause, a change of vocal tone, a filler phrase such as ‘well then’ or ‘right’ or ‘okay’ to indicate that you are shifting direction.
CLEARING UP MISUNDERSTANDINGS
When we talk, we can use a variety of words and phrases to express what we mean. Our thoughts aren’t pinned down in a few terse phrases. When we get something wrong, we can say right away: ‘What I meant to say was…’
We can go back on things: ‘You know you said a minute ago that Gemma couldn’t afford to come? I was thinking…’
We can also apologise. It might be easier to do this on the phone than in person or in writing – it’s up to you and the individual circumstances. But as a rule, never do it by text. If you’re seriously apologising, never write ‘soz’, unless you’re ten years old, and even then…
Text messages are not good vehicles for discussions. Exchanges ping back and forth like a tennis rally. A little bit of hostility or aggression can colour the words. It’s much better to use the phone, when you can tease out differences of opinion and explore possibilities without sounding prescriptive or abrupt.
You can insert little words and phrases which soften the bones of the discussion: ‘That’s a good point, actually,’ or ‘I tend to think that Mario’s will suit more people’. There is little room for such niceties in text messages.
When we speak, we are more exposed. Choose your moments, but it’s worth taking a chance on relationships. What’s the worst that can happen?
CHOOSING A TIME AND PLACE
A text has the advantage of being private, whereas a phone call made in public may be overheard. But your call is to one particular person, so there is no need to involve anyone else. Try to find a time and a place where you can talk without inflicting your conversation on those within earshot.
It’s not always easy, and fluctuating reception means that you may have to raise your voice, but on the whole, just because you can talk to someone from anywhere at all doesn’t mean that you have to. You needn’t be the person braying and shouting into the distance, oblivious of their surroundings. You are classier than that.
A ROMANTIC TRADITION
We do things differently now, but telephone images from old plays and songs and movies resonate with atmosphere. A man in a phone box, wearing a fedora, speaking intently into the receiver; a man in the neighbouring booth who follows him as he leaves; a woman sitting on a bed of silks and satins, telephone tucked between her head and shoulder as she paints her nails. Blondie hanging on the telephone. The call to her mother from Sylvia’s heartbroken ex, punctuated by the operator counting down the minutes remaining on this long-distance call.
‘I can’t wait for your text’ is very different from ‘I can’t wait for your call’. The former, screen sized, possibly in text speak, delivered from an unknown context, possibly interrupted by other notifications popping up. The latter, uncertain, awkward at times, a bit stumbling maybe, but fully engaged, a sign of hope that we can talk to each other, make real connections and eventually get it right.