The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most of the general population to rethink their approaches to many things in life, as pretty much everything has changed since mid-March. One such thing that has been affected significantly is socialization. Different people have always had different approaches to social interaction, with some thriving as social butterflies pre-pandemic, while others welcoming the slew of lockdowns as an opportunity to reset socially. Whatever one’s approach may be, the pandemic has turned out to be a great equalizer in a social sense.
Everybody — social butterflies, socially awkward people and those in the middle — is now forced to communicate virtually. With everyone hunkered down and spread out hundreds — even thousands — of miles apart, virtual communication has become the way to go. A lot has been said about video conferencing platforms like Zoom, but texting, the most basic of virtual interaction channels, can often go ignored. In this piece, I’ll talk about texting and just how intricate it really is, since this period of time has truly helped me see it all clearly.
When I think of how I typically communicate, I find that I tend to ramble on about things I enjoy talking about or maybe just my thoughts in general. It is partly why I enjoy writing pieces like these, to have someone on the receiving end of my thoughts for once. Such a move to textual conversation should have been a blessing for me and I have been largely lucky lately, yet I have also found that texting is more like a chess game than a means to keep in touch with people you care about, unless of course, you take certain steps or find the right people, both factors being interconnected.
Firstly, there arises the issue of how many messages one should send and how large they should be. The way I communicate often dictates that my messages be verbose, oftentimes despite me wanting to keep things short. This is something often frowned upon, since people have limited patience, attention spans and often listen only when and to what they want, especially in written form. In truth, nobody should be feeling the need to shackle themselves while expressing their thoughts on text. Admittedly, you would need to reach a level of comfort with the other person and people can definitely do things their own way, but texting substantively should not be seen as a negative and probably be normalized, especially now when there aren’t too many great alternatives to texting.
Secondly — and perhaps most pervasively — there is the issue of make-believe rules. Such rules are certainly down to personal preference and I do not really judge anybody for their choices, but I personally dislike some rules that exist around texting people, like waiting a specific amount of time to respond to someone or holding back on responding on purpose or having to suppress the urge to double text, simply to avoid looking “needy,” or texting a certain way to fit into some viral Twitter trope, or as mentioned above, disregarding messages with any amount of substantive content. Not only can it affect the person on the other end, it just threatens to cause more harm than good through misunderstandings. It is hard enough as it is, trying to detect tone or read emotion from texts. These norms or rules only add to the trouble. Now, I can understand some of these rules making sense with strangers, but if they persist with people you personally know, I find myself taking issue with it.
There is also the fairly recent phenomenon of ghosting, where one completely cuts off the other with no explanation whatsoever. In a world riddled with triggers for anxiety, this is yet another arrow added to the quiver. There are several instances where ghosting people is entirely justified and I can understand the need for it, but when mixed in with some of the make-believe rules, it can create the breeding ground for catastrophization i.e. fearing the absolute worst due to a lack of response. Nobody can be expected to be around for anybody all the time, no matter how close they may be, but for people susceptible to feeling anxious, there can certainly be great fear from actions — or inaction — without any malicious intent. It is not implausible to fear being ghosted even without reason, simply because of the environment created today.
These are just some of the chess-like intricacies of texting that I have noted in my limited social interactions. I personally think some of this needs remedying, although people could make a case for things being perfect and I cannot entirely dispute them, since there is no empirical right or wrong here. This is really just my take on things. Part of the reason texting can sometimes feel like an excruciating game and less like an invaluable means of communication is that most people are not on the same page. However, unlike any subjects we encounter in school or college, texting simply cannot be codified.
To that end, I would urge people to think of the other person as if they were right before them and the conversation was being held in person, affording them in-person levels of respect. Establish open communication about needs, wants and expectations and try finding a middle ground. Heck, use little things like message reacts and likes to adequately acknowledge the other person.
Such things could be harder to work out with strangers than with people we personally know, but it is worth trying for everybody we talk to, despite the extra effort it takes, in the name of decency. Perhaps such an approach would help mitigate the issues I have brought up, making texting all about communication that can be enjoyed and less about trying to out-fox the other person, or fight our own brains catastrophizing over nothing.
Anupras Mohapatra is a former opinion editor for The Daily Cardinal and currently serves on the Editorial Board. He is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Journalism.