December 25, 2009

Why Text is a Crappy Form of Communication

Our generation has grown up with and become completely accustomed to this rise of digital communication. We praise its availability everyday, citing common advantages such as "it's faster for me to text than to call them" and "I don't really feel like talking to this person, I'll just IM them". These things are what make digital communication so convenient, and sure, it's easy. You can send people mass e-mails or texts to let them know about that meeting tomorrow night, and it will all be done in just a few seconds.

Unfortunately, there are obvious disadvantages, and these disadvantages stem from its misuse. People these days have become accustomed to using it in place of face-to-face contact.Teenagers are texting constantly, and most of the time spent on the computer involves an instant messaging program open in the background. What people don't realize is that these faceless forms of communication lack the ability to convey emotion, and do nothing to further relationships and more often than not cause problems due to misunderstandings.

Let's start with the bare facts here. One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Another study indicated that the impact of a performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication. It seems that the lifeblood of communication is completely non-verbal, which includes things like body language and tone of voice. Text lacks all those things, which is why so many things are misunderstood in e-mails.

In fact, another study showed that nearly 40 percent of what is written in e-mail is misunderstood. Imagine a situation where you meet someone online and keep in contact completely through e-mail. If you were to meet this person face-to-face, would you even be compatible? If 40 percent of your messages were misunderstood, do you even know this person? Also, if 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, would you even know HOW to talk to this person?

I have obviously done my share of instant messaging and texting, so I understand these negative effects first-hand. I found that even after having several personal conversations with people online, it did nothing to further my relationship with these people in real-life. The words in the online conversation faded as soon as the IM window was closed, and all meaning, if any, was gone. I also had a case of keeping in contact with someone mainly through texting. I found that in person, this person rarely even bothered talking to me and when they did, it was awkward and indicated an obvious incompatibility for friendship. This seemed to indicate for me that any and all texting relationships were meaningless, and that the only way I could really get to know someone was through real-life contact.

Most importantly, there's the humor aspect of communication. More than anything else, humor is conveyed mainly through tone of voice, facial cues, and timing. Now, most of our humor consists of sarcasm, right? Well, "A recent study by Profs. Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago focused on how well sarcasm is detected in electronic messages. Their conclusion: Not only do e-mail senders overestimate their ability to communicate feelings, but e-mail recipients also overestimate their ability to correctly decode those feelings." The study explained that the main reason this problem persists is because people are ego-centric; people assume that others will interpret their words the same way they do. They "overestimate their ability to correctly decode those feelings." The thing is, people often don't interpret your words the same way you do, causing all sorts of problems.

I cannot even recall the number of times I've experienced, heard of, and witnessed sarcastic comments go wrong online. Sarcasm is such a common part of our daily conversations, but it is impossible to detect through written text. People often do not realize this, and incorporate sarcasm into their text conversations anyway. Someone on the receiving end of the joke will misinterpret the sarcasm as being serious, and get offended. Arguments ensue. Misunderstandings like this are so commonplace and almost unavoidable, which is why texting and e-mailing is such a bad medium for conversation.

Don't get me wrong; there is nothing inherently wrong with texting or e-mailing. Texting is an excellent tool for exchanging small bits of information at relative ease. The same goes for e-mailing. As for instant messaging, it allows people to kill time by 'chatting' with each other. The thing about all this is, that's all it really is: exchanging stone-cold information. Like I said earlier, you're not really connecting with this person through your AIM chats; you're just trading information that you may or may not even understand. Don't feel bad, its not your fault. Getting to know a person is based around your learning of their emotional reactions, which is something you can only detect through nonverbal means and something text cannot adequately do. People must learn to understand the limits of this new technology, and find what it can and cannot do.


  1. This is a very detailed and interesting topic ^^. I agree with you, most of the time I get lots of miscommunication via email or text...calling or meeting up in person is still the best!

  2. This was an interesting read. My psychology professor and my program coordinator always make a point of saying that all this electronic interaction doesn't do much for our social skills or emotional health. Most hated form of e-interaction: Facebook. Write on walls, poke people and farm. Myspace, twitter, texting and all that. Nothing beats meeting and talking to a person standing in front of you.


  3. Tell the truth!!!!
    i love you c lin!!
    the truth will prevail.
    that data confirms what i feared to be true for many years.
    Why is your opinion the minority on the net?
    I think people are blind...following the blind most of the time.

    1. Thank you very much...but, c lin? I'm not Jeremy Lin...I'm sure that's a typo though. Appreciate it.

  4. I don't agree that this is *always* true, though it can be in many cases. While I will admit to having had a few misunderstandings/arguments stemming from online interaction, I think that's just due to the fact that any interaction has the potential to not work out, regardless of the form it takes. In my personal experience I have had *more* misunderstandings in face to face conversations than I have ever had in online conversations.

  5. Hi it was very informative post. Thank you for sharing this information. What does 3 mean in texting? Your answer – When 3 is prefixed with special characters, the result is a digital emotion. Still not sure how that is possible?
    what does 3 mean in texting

  6. There is now a messaging app that solves this issue of misinterpreting texts. It's called Emot it and is fantastic in the way it works. It is available on iPhone and android. Check it out at