Texting Causes Tension


By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of Jim Pennucci.

Texting has become a dominant form of communication since its arrival in 1992. With 20 billion SMS messages sent each day across the globe, it may finally be time to declare a time of death for the phone call.

The way we speak and the way we text are two different languages. Or at least, they’re supposed to be. Linguists refer to real-life speech as synchronous, which correlates to pacing and tone. Online communication and texting are referred to as asynchronous–spontaneous and occurring in spurts of activity.

The use of punctuation in texts and online messaging is rare. According to a study conducted by American University, students reserve “sentence-final punctuation” to only 39 percent of text message conversation. Line breaks, or the sending of separate messages, fit into a texting dialogue more naturally than proper punctuation.

For example, it’s common for people to get put off by the appearance of a period in text messages and online communication.

Of course, that reaction doesn’t hold true for everyone. The idea that people might interpret periods in texts as possessing a hostile tone causes one male New Yorker in his early 30s to scoff. He claims to use periods all the time, since they appear automatically in his text messages after double clicking the space button.

For cell phone users who don’t have this feature enabled however, periods may come across as rude. By opting to utilize a period at the end of a text message, the finality of the punctuation mark is not lost on the individual at the receiving end. The punctuation may translate into meaning that the person is disinterested in the conversation and ready to move on. The subtle dot has the ability to bring a discussion to an abrupt end.

A period can carry significant weight especially if the messages are between two people who are romantically involved. The implications of the period’s serious tone can cause the other person to think that there is a problem in the relationship. The recipient may wonder whether his partner is upset, racking his brain for the potential reasons as to why that could be.

Another punctuation symbol that pops up every now and then in texts or online chats is the ellipsis. Whereas a period typically signals that a conversation is over in the universe of text messages, the ellipsis invites the discussion to continue. The wavering dots leave the individual’s statement open-ended, allowing the other party to take the conversation in the direction of his choice.

Slate reported that frequent use of the ellipsis prevents a text or email from containing concise, complete thoughts. Manifested in the symbol is a person thinking out loud and rambling, which “offers the opposite of clarity.”

The ellipsis doesn’t exactly make texting more convenient. If anything, it seems to demand more time on the part of the individual composing the message. Lots of those who have a “severe ellipsis habit” tend to type a lot more than just three dots, signing off with a trademark range anywhere from four to 24 dots long.

For iPhone users, the three dots have become impossible to avoid. While two text messengers are engaged in an iMessage conversation, an ellipsis appears to signal that the other person is typing.

Depending on the importance of the information about to be delivered, the icon may hold a great deal of manipulative power over the person staring at it. As The New York Times declared, the ellipsis can appear as a “bubble of anxiety,” depending on what the message is expected to say.

A Brooklyn bartender says that when he sees the bubble appear, he responds instantly with a GIF of the exact same image. It’s his go-to witty reply–an acknowledgement that he sees the other person typing and is awaiting a response.

“I do it to my wife all the time,” he tells BTR, laughing.

While this man views the bubble as an opportunity to make a joke, it can cause severe pangs of anxiety in others. The danger is not exclusive to those with iPhones either. Google chat, for instance, has a similar feature that indicates when another person is typing.

For example, if a person is G-chatting with his supervisor, he may be over-thinking the response time between messages as a result of telepressure–a fixation with checking messages and responding in a rapid manner.

In order to avoid falling prey to technology-induced stress, it’s helpful to decide on blocks of time where a phone is set aside, silenced, and ignored for a little while. A digital detox, no matter how brief the time involved, can be an extremely restorative experience. It serves as a great addition to an individual’s me-time at the end of the day–best reserved for hours when work doesn’t expect to reach you.

When the “bubble of anxiety” remains unseen, we can more easily live our lives without interruption.