My sixth-grade son recently got into a little trouble, and we imposed some restrictions on ‘screen time’ (as parents say), including not being able to constantly text message while at home. Later that evening he appeared and handed us this printed entreaty, which has big points about the peril and promise of this highly real time and compressed channel which is so often misunderstood (and maligned) by us grownups. Sherry Turkle talked at this year’s TED about the negative aspects of texting, and as I listened I couldn’t help thinking she wasn’t giving enough airtime to the positives. Faced with separation from his beloved iPhone, my son made some big points:
Meeting New People:
“pretty much my relationships start with texting because I’m more comfortable texting someone then talking to them in person or calling them on the phone … it would just be awkward to go up to someone and say ‘i like you’”
“If I want to talk to a bunch of people the same thing i shouldn’t have to do a three way call because that takes up a lot of time to just get everyone on the phone and it is weird to hear a bunch of people at the same time on one phone.”
“Texting is a good way to apologize to someone because if you apologize to someone face to face or even just talking on the phone the person can yell at you or hang up or just walk away…”
What’s important about texting is that as a new form of communication it enables experiences under conditions where they might not otherwise have happened. Yes of course, the connection is impoverished when compared to face-to-face interaction, but if it was your teenager: would you choose to have them lose a good friend because they weren’t able to apologize face to face? I wouldn’t.
I’ve made the very same point about Second Life many times… people say “Virtual worlds reduce the quality of communication”, and sure they are right, regarding fidelity. But I have had a Japanese guy walk me around the beautiful house he built with his own hands in SL, all the while explaining his culture and the choices he made, with both of us only able to speak because our text strings were being auto-translated into each other’s languages as spoke. This is a man and a culture that I might otherwise never know, one that I become closer to by knowing, and the world better for myself and all others who do the same.