Social crutch of cellphone texting is killing the art of casual conversation

May 11, 2011 

Recently, I was out to dinner and noticed a group of women friends at a nearby table. I made the false assumption that my quiet dinner for two would be interrupted by the high-pitched laughter and rowdiness of a girls’ night out.

To my surprise, I heard nary a word from them. Had they taken a vow of silence? No, they were all texting, hands feverishly moving across their cellphone key pads. I wondered who they could possibly be texting if they were all out to dinner together. At first I thought that this table was an anomaly. But, as I looked around, I noticed many diners who were more engrossed in text messaging than engaging in conversation with their dining companions.

An estimated 6 trillion text messages were sent in 2010, a threefold increase over the past three years. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’ve contributed my fair share to this number. In fact, I recently, switched my calling plan to unlimited messages after several nights of marathon texting.

But with all modern technology, there is a time and place when it should be used, and unfortunately, a lot of us text when we should be engaging in a more personal and intimate discourse.

I asked one of my text-aholic friends why she relies heavily on this form of communication. Her answer: “Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to someone.”

Texting can be an avoidance mechanism. It offers total control over the flow of the conversation because you can decide at what point you respond to the person. Your texting partner can easily be dismissed with an “LOL” or a “TTYL.”

The silences are not as uncomfortable because people assume you’re otherwise engaged and “talking” to them in between putting groceries in your cart or pumping gas.

But, texting oftentimes becomes a crutch. We don’t have to be as engaged as we would if the person was sitting across from us. We can literally “phone it in.”

This aspect of texting does bother me, especially when you hear horror stories of people using this medium to break up with their significant others. What is more troubling is the number of people who cannot seem to put their cellphone down to engage in meaningful conversation with the person sitting right across from them.

At that same restaurant, I saw many teenagers texting, barely acknowledging their parents. I realize that children ignoring their parents is hardly cause for alarm. However, some of the parents were texting as well, equally ignoring their children.

A dinner table should be an interactive, communal space. Families are so busy with work, sports, and school activities that most do not get a chance to sit down together and share a meal spiced with leisurely communication. When this rare opportunity arises, it should be cherished.

Spending those precious moments texting sends the wrong message; that the person on the other end of the line is more important. Texting is killing the art of conversation. People are looking down at their phone instead of looking across the table. Nothing can rival the connectedness you feel when you are looking into someone’s eyes fully engaged with them in conversation. Nothing can replace the inflection in someone’s voice or the sound of your dinner companion’s laughter in response to a funny joke.

Safety experts warn about the dangers of texting while driving. Perhaps texting should be banned not just from our cars, but at dinner tables as well. Rather than “LOL” in a text, let’s laugh out loud with the person we’re with.

Ami Peterson, who lives and works in Olympia, is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at amipetersonoly@yahoo.com.

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