published Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Kennedy: Texting is a manly practice

I'm a big fan of texting.

Otherwise, I loathe talking on the phone ... and FaceTiming ... and Facebooking. I've never actually Skyped, although it looks glitchy and makes me think of Max Headroom. I tolerate Twittering, which is a lot like passing notes in a crowded room.

Did you ever think that once picture phones became cheap and functional, people would prefer to send electronic telegrams?

I remember years ago being surprised when friends said their young-adult son was an avid texter. Now I get it. Texting is a male thing, a digital grunt.

You can respond to people in your own time, in your own way, and reduce the chance your words will be twisted or misunderstood. People try to say too much in email, which doesn't have either the nuance of voice inflection or the truth-distilling properties of brevity.

Even my 11-year-old son has his own phone, which 95 percent of the time is just a texting appliance. If his phone were to actually ring, I'm not sure he knows which end to talk into.

Once, his texts to a friend were so short and cryptic that his buddy wrote back: "We've talked about this. Use your big-boy words."

My wife is also a frequent texter. Still, she prefers to talk on the phone, I think. Women, it seems, turn to texting when the hour or the setting are not conducive to actual voice conversations.

I hear my wife on the phone a lot. Even when she's in the other room, I can hear the conversation crescendo one moment and fall off the next. There's something musical, even poetic, about her phone calls.

For me, texting is delightfully impersonal. My brain is not big enough to engage in elegant dialogue. Sometimes my honest answer to a question is a mere "yes" or "no," and texting lets you get away with that.

Scrolling down my phone now, I spot some wonderfully brief exchanges of information that would have taken minutes to convey on the telephone.

Examples:

• "99.3 at 8:45" -- a child's temperature and the time.

• "chili in the crock pot" -- a dinner date, planned and executed.

• "game canceled due to weather" -- a soccer game delayed.

• "Go Storm!" -- a soccer game joined.

See, it's all so efficient.

One thing does bother me: Texting isn't made for men's hands. It's like typing while wearing two catcher's mitts. You have to use the sides of your thumbs, where there are only 1.2 nerve endings per square inch.

Nonetheless, the number of texts we exchange has become frightening.

According to factbrowser.com:

• More than 96 percent of smartphone users send text messages.

• Americans text more than 4 trillion (that's trillion with a "t") times a year.

• About half of people who use social media daily would rather text than call a person.

These are not numbers that are likely to reverse any time soon -- which is a good thing.

Texting slows down our conversations. It allows our brain to engage before we respond to a question. And that can only be good for a society that's not so good at listening face to face.

I even read somewhere recently that more teen drivers are -- finally-- taking seriously warnings against texting and driving.

Many, it seems, have simply decided not to drive.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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