I text too much. I’ve talked about this before … but after averaging roughly 4-5 hours of screen time each week with iMessage managing to take up 3-4 of those hours, I must mention it once again, cause, clearly, I got a lot to say… in a multitude of ways.
Indeed, my iMessage app does duke it out with Twitter for the top slot of my screen time on the regular. For a while, I been wondering what about this particular application seems to apprehend my precious time so effortlessly. Now, before I shoot the messenger, I have some ideas.
In my original text on texting, “Texts as Texts,” I talked about how our texts could be seen as digital yet sacred documentations of soul in their capacity to immortalize our social experience on the screen. Rather hastily, I likened texting to the process of writing letters, which let us recall, as Jungian psychotherapist Thomas Moore maintains, serve as, “soul’s organ of rumination rather than the mind’s capacity for its understanding.” Though in thinking more about our culture’s tendency towards digital compulsion, vice and egoistic concern, I wonder whether this holds true. As Moore puts forth, writing and sending letters remains a highly ritualized process, developing from page and envelope to stamp and seal, not before stealing away to mailbox, mailman and recipient hand. So can we really say such a prolonged process of pondering is akin to any text we might send?
Maybe check your last text and get back to me, but I definitely do believe that while the process may not be the same, when done deliberately letter writing and texting are still engaged in similar acts of meditative reflection, artful expression, prudent confidentiality and profuse anticipation, as Moore proclaims, and my mini-case study on texts as texts will soon reveal.
But how often are we truly deliberate with our digital choices? I’ll be the first to say that my texting at times feels more blandly compulsive than authentically intentional. Lately, I been feeling real flustered about my neurotic texting tendencies, in part I believe because I generally don’t spend too much time on social media apps anymore, so texting via iMessage has become a big part of how I stay connected with others.
After all, who in our personal lives don’t we text? And since when in its advent have we felt the need not to text if at all? Even self-proclaimed “bad texters” take part in this never-ending nexus of text messaging by virtue of having a phone…nobody in this modern era is ever truly on their own. We are always one text away. Nowadays, one press of the send button allows us to be in contact with anybody who’s got our number whenever. We are eternally accessible, irreverently reachable, forever free to say something to somebody, anything to anybody, anywhere, at any time.
Many of us have been texting for nearly a decade or longer at this point. I got my first phone at 13 but texted via a messaging app on my Kindle Fire in fifth grade for two years prior. Over the last 10 years, I’ve communicated via electronic message with likely upwards of thousands of people via iMessage, Kik, GroupMe and other social media apps with IM features. When considering the cornucopia of people we communicate with in the digital sphere, it’s easy to separate these experiences from our analog lives. But the interactions we partake in during texting and other forms of electronic communication imprint, not just on the physical page, but energetically upon our souls in the most subtle of ways. Texting is intimate in totality in that we divulge so deeply with one specific person out of billions upon billions. Amidst the meticulous, careful crafting, backspacing, erasing, deleting, re-typing, re-thinking, re-drinking and now, really we-thinking our message, we find ourselves in a trance while just trying to chat.
No mere message is mundane, so text this next quote to a friend and hit send: “Other people are established inalienably in my memories only if their names were entered in the scrolls of my destiny from the beginning so that encountering them was at the same time a kind of recollection,” as Carl Jung would attest … at the sanctified site of the Text, soaked in the holy waters of revelation, we can recognize divinity in the disclosure.
Nonetheless, we must re-call that we can only manage an imagined view of the recipient at any time. We have no grasp of their actual reality, their true thoughts and feelings towards our texting. Not only are we removed from the Other when texting, but so typically do we find ourselves removed from the Self as well. As the dialectics of distanciation remove those reading the text from ascertaining the absolute meaning, we become divorced from our own perception of its meaning ourselves as time marches on. Drunk or high texts sent in a drastic haze can boggle the mind for minutes, even months to come later. The moment we send a message, we lose sight of its sincerity, the quality of character and tone we’ve intended to portray at that point in time. The time of day a text is sent, the interval between responses, the length of the message received, in addition to its morphological marks and syntactical structures may suggest certain details about the emotional state of both, the sender and receiver, though even then we may be deceived. Dutifully in those details, however, does lay the devil, as texting tends to unveil much more about ourselves than we might realize. It may not be in the act of sending and receiving itself, but instead, in the act of reflecting on our past texts, prior lived timelines and previous modes of being, operating and exchanging with others.
The texts between two people, albeit in significant context, utter a universalizing narrative: Whether a short story or complete novel, an eternal tale is always told. If our texting is truly sacred as our letters, then any text conversation should open the doors of soulful discovery. Scrutinizingly scrolling, I decided to do a mini-case study, utilizing my texts as texts to discover if these notions of numinosity hold true, for anyone. After all, there’s no Source better than Self!
Now, to contextualize this mini-case study, I should mention that in August I got a new phone and lost all my contacts. Three months later, I’m astounded at having already inserted roughly over a hundred numbers into my contacts app after only a quarter of a year. Though I do still have old conversations and contacts on my current laptop through last year, as well as years’ worth of past correspondence on my old phone for reference, for a while, I used to play a game, guessing who was texting me based on the linguistic and situational context of the text whenever a new contact would pop up. During this “new phone, who dis” process, I discovered how distinct everybody’s form of communication was from each other. This should come as no surprise as our boundlessly diverse identities of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, spirituality, religious affiliation, nationality and beyond shape every syllable we say, even on the screen.
For the first part of this case study, I used a web app to randomly pick a number 1-114 and chose the contact of the corresponding number picked to analyze our conversation. Those people, these contacts will, of course, remain anonymous but I’ll reveal my findings here:
11. This person happened to be somebody I hung out with right before Thanksgiving break last week. Though before then, we had mostly been in contact for creative projects and occasional inquiries about potential social moves and events. It was interesting to see how strictly professional our texts tended to be, straddling often multiple mentions of various projects and pursuits. I had wholly forgotten about certain conversational motifs. Certain discussions on topics like housing, birthdays, parties and performances had completely eluded me til I re-read. Ultimately, in re-reading, I was astounded by how frequently the two of us have collaborated with each other in a multitude of means. We both share similar demographics in terms of sexuality, gender and race, so it was also interesting to note the extent to which our coinciding identities effectively facilitated the communication. I also observed how we were both quicker to respond to non-substantive occupational matters that did not involve project participation or creative commitment.
50. I’m not gon lie. I fell off with this person, rather recently too, but they do hold a dear spot in my heart even now. In analyzing our texts, it was interesting to see how quickly comfortable we became with each other after meeting just last semester. Despite having completely different demographics and personalities, we tend(ed) to text each other with a very playful, sardonic banter I cannot imagine being replicated with anyone else. The subject of our conversation is mostly about moves, both pertaining to parties and potential suitors. It’s clear to me based on the time, content and contexts of the text which instances we were chatting in inebriated states versus sober. It’s also clear that in the short time we have known each other, we do seem to care deeply about each other’s well-being, and truly want, wish and hope for the best with each other.
99. This one was hard. It happened to be a person I’ve lived with before whom I did not get along with well at all and it’s clearly seen on the screen. I regret the last text I sent them which also happened to be right before break as well. I’ve analyzed our texts before, alongside a mutual who acknowledged the multitudinous tension between us on display in every text. There’s disconnect. We’ve both wielded wounds with our words, having hurled hurtful messages at each other all the while living in the same house, which had a harmful tendency to deal with conflict digitally as opposed to in person. It goes to show that there is truly a unique energetic signature embedded even in our online conversations with our souls. Some messages bring us pain, as the agonizing histories they hold hurt to re-view, with every re-read planting another seed of remorse for a past that must mourn with acquiesce.
Though other times we realize the reverse! And revel in messages that were too good to be true. You know those conversations that we squeal and squirm about, screenshot and send to a friend. The vast range of emotions our texts seem to evoke does seem to promote the idea they indeed are as divinely involved as we might suspect. And in the second part of my case study, I sought to take this even further.
I was inspired by a speaker at a conference I attended in high school, who prompted us to take out our phones and text five people something like “Hey, I was just thinking about you and wanted to let you know you’re amazing” or something completely fake like that. It was meant to promote random acts of kindness, though I do question the ethics and altruism of such inauthentic acts. For my second part of this case study, I decided to revise this procedure by using another random web tool to pick two people in my contacts to, well, contact.
95. Okay, I’ll bite. I be into this person, lowkey. It’s true. They also happen to be yet another person whom I was also texting recently (it’s the synchronicities for me…) and I decided to send them a digital flyer for my upcoming improv show (this December 2nd, in Angell Hall, Auditorium A at 8!) I believe there’s a special degree of intimacy to individually inviting somebody to something, especially in a digital era of social media stories and mass promotion. Getting an invitation for a function, performance or event suggests to somebody that we not only are interested in this specific thing, but want to partake in that thing with them in particular. We communicate our values and their value to us through the image, throwing a thousand words of worth to them with a single photo.
75. I happened to get a close friend from high school whom I had just re-connected with last night after years of separation. I decided to text them, briefly recapping how happy I was to see them again. I already intended on texting them, anyway, but even after a couple hours of hanging I hadn’t yet. It’s always a crapshoot deciding whether to follow-up text someone after hanging out, and not many people do it, but I have always found it to be a considerate way of reminding someone how much they mean to you personally. With plans made over text especially, it always seems fitting to reflect and follow up, even so concisely, over text as well. Many of my female friends will deliver parting words to me: “text me when you get home safe.” And (sometimes) I do … but ofttimes not without a subtle hesitation or pushback, as the part of me that believes I am divinely protected at all times dislikes the notion I would ever be otherwise. Though I continue to realize that for many of my female and gender-non-conforming friends this is not the reality. Not everyone can afford such wishful thinking.
My parents similarly are people whose texts to me are fraught with care I continuously misconstrue as over-caution. I’ve realized, especially after getting into a minor car accident this semester, how my parents have absolutely no idea of the complexity of my on-campus life outside the texts and images I send, and phone calls I make to them. In the perpetually booked and busy state I’ve imposed on myself during undergrad, I’ve been astonished at the lengths I’ve gone subconsciously without contacting at least one person in my immediate family. Even a few days feels off to me. It just goes to show the rate at which we expect to text another person is contextually dependent on our location, relation, time and effort.
Responding to texts can be a whole ordeal. I’ve had to block out time, solely dedicated to responding to people I’d left on read/delivered for days. With an infinitude of folks to reach out to…who do we text back first? When and at what time? How often should we text them? And for what reasons and why? There is no straightforward answer to any of these new media mysteries. Add another person into the mix and it gets even more confusing.
Evidently, the emerging phenomenon of the group chat complicates this conversation, especially when considering how real-life sociopolitical dynamics endure in digital spaces. Group chats serve a multitude of functions, from practical to social, obligatory to leisurely. We chat in groups of three to a hundred for a variety of reasons. They inform collective identity and maintain social relations between organizations over distance and time. In my former fraternity I was in upwards of 20 GroupMe chats, all for one brotherhood. Aside from the main group chat, there was a chat for those who lived in the chapter house (and an additional one for each floor), a chat for parties, a chat solely dedicated to conversations on cannabis (and about cannabis too…), a chat for memes and more that I’m leaving out, having since left most of them. Similarly, other groups I’ve been involved in have created multiple group chats across different social media platforms.
This grand array of group chats on display even within a single group suggests to me that we have a collective penchant for particularization especially when it comes to communication.
Do we delightfully chase after these group chats and chains out of desire for specification and specialization or does it, instead, speak to the excess tendencies of a modern culture maniacally addicted to the digital mediation of self or in this case the simulated mediation of collective? So often do the contents of group chats, trapped in the immovable grip of group-think/mind, repeatedly re-mind us of “real-life,” replicating the politics of identity and desire that in intertwining fashion favor normativity, hegemonic masculinity and whiteness. When events, often experiences of collective spectatorship — games, performances, elections, etc. — spark digital discourse, it is most definitely interesting to note who speaks and is interacted with the most (how frequently and at what length) and what that might mean for the group dynamic as a whole.
In all our texts, we may often say something — positive or negative — that we would never dare say aloud, in person or to another’s face. The imagined nature of another person behind the screen limits our ability to recognize their humanity or on the flip side cause us to put them on an idolized pedestal. Truth be told, texts be bold, and it’s a lot of folks that would never say what they put in a chat with they chest face-to-face!
But let’s face the facts, as this text on texts as texts (two!) wraps up. Clearly, our texting is not without its vice. We text, vexed at the site of vengeance, arguing on for hours, our patience running thin, message bubbles running thick. We text for egoistic endeavors, fiending for praise, approval, attention, late-night booty calls and early-morning monologues. We text out of laziness, fear of the implications of in person intimacy, authentic communication and true knowing.
And we know this. What we might overlook is how texting can certainly be a celestial tool of healing, love and light. Working at a speed of similar nature, we been blessed to be beings able to communicate with each other with such critical efficiency. It’s the texts that veer us towards virtue by confirming, affirming and keeping us firm in our support for one another. Once we start seeing each virtual aggregation of letters as a venerable Letter, we may be able to handle our texting with less compulsive tendencies.
Writers know, rightfully so, the sheer power of just putting words onto a page. In pondering our daily digital conversations with the people closest to us, we should reflect conscientiously as the texts we send are never only ours, but cosmic transmissions, etched in the ethers of space-time shared between two transcendent souls forever.
Aight, that’s it. Now go text this text to your friends.
I mean it.
Beloved MiC Columnist Karis Clark can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org