A single vibration alerts me of a text message in class and right away I feel Ferris Bueller-cool. It\’s funny how such banal little messages can strike visceral nerves (he said what?), outsmart clueless professors and invade our lives in almost every arena. Getting the fleeting beep or vibe can make any receiver feel suave – whether in class, on the road or at home. [one]
Sometime within very recent memory, our generation developed a curious pattern in its communiqué. Informal conversation dominates, we rely on brief spurts of periodic contact to avoid feeling awkward and the proliferation of strange acronyms doesn’t even seem strange anymore. In one sweep, texting changed the whole cache of interpersonal decorum.
However, this raging phenomenon is nothing novel. The nonchalant rules of engagement have been losing formalities since the birth of e-mail, which was a few decades ago. It\’s \”not a new problem, it\’s been around for 25 years,\” said telecommunication professor Charles Steinfield. The questions users should be asking themselves are, \”What are the right situations to use e-mail, especially when there\’s significance? What is the right etiquette?\” said Steinfield. This can become a huge problem. At least those Post-It note breakups are in someone\’s own pen. But does the change in medium matter? the possibility of losing sight of communicative chivalry is on the line.
Element of Surprise, Etiquette, Snide Remarks
Nonetheless, the lone vibration or blinking light has become an unexpected surprise, a test of curiosity. While not as exciting as an unopened letter, the text has an individual dynamic all its own. Whereas an e-mail or handwritten letter is usually from an expected – or sometimes buried-in-the-past – party, the sender of a text message is ambiguous, random and temperamental. The limits of the text are virtually endless, yet they leave no trace once your mailbox is purged of all the one-liners and endearing greetings from friends. \”E-mails are more structured like a letter – you have to enter a subject, type the address, etc.,\” said linguistics professor Tara Sanchez. \”I will just send a text saying \’bitch\’ to a friend, something that I would never do in an e-mail.\”
[two]The casual nature of the text is a subtle art that can be used in an endless number of ways. Finding out homework answers without the awkward phone call pauses of a group-mate, or sending a happy birthday message to an estranged ex-boyfriend are now acceptable answers to rather frivolous ordeals. But often it\’s questioned where the fine line between being cute and being profound is drawn. \”It\’s easy to hide behind technology,\” said Sanchez. \”It can be used as a way to limit yourself if [you\’re] looking at avoiding contact.\”
Overall, being a texter is inconspicuous, and hip. As a recently established connoisseur, I can now type elaborate paragraphs to friends, acquaintances and ex-boyfriends while driving on the freeway. Texting accomplices appreciate my agility to steer with my knees at 80 mph while typing sans T9, which many revere as a godly shortcut. And equally, I appreciate their cute comments, like the ever-endearing, \”I luv u bitch.\”
Stimulation Central: Highs & Lows
But there are also downsides, as with all technology that moves life at warp speeds. The shorthand method of texting is a vehicle for laziness and allows close friends to shut down proper conversations in a few, jolty sentences. When was etiquette lost? Some things deserve a well-rounded story; a nice, lengthy conversation and at least the proper inflection on words. And BTW, don\’t tell me you\’re mad at me or you\’re pregnant or you\’re moving to Helsinki. That would be very seventh grade (even though none of us texted back then) and much better suited for AIM, obvs.
The universal instant messaging is a versed communications web in itself. There\’s the buddy list comprised of historical high school chums, the new casual acquaintances and then the ones you don\’t really know but still check their away messages when you\’re bored. \”It\’s just an extra component of relating to people,\” said Sanchez. And relating to so many people simultaneously. We\’re the generation of technological excess, pushing our multitasking opportunities to the edge – reading away messages, T9ing expletives to awkward acquaintances while checking our e-mails and listening to iPods.
Human biology senior Catherine Le has mixed feelings. \”It makes people more apt to say things they wouldn\’t [say] face to face,\” she said. And these bold remarks form the makings of online personas, the façades created through away messages, greetings and even font. Tom Downey, accounting major and AIMer with a knack for hard-assed away messages, thinks IMs are \”taking over our generation\’s social skills.\” As an avid user, he still points out the critical elements we recognize but don\’t always take into consideration. Sometimes, \”calling each other is completely unacceptable,\” Downey said. In terms of confronting a potential romantic interest, there are unwritten rules that come with the informal territory. \”If I call somebody it gives them the upper-hand on being hard. They can call back if they feel like it and be none the worse because I initiated the communication, or you could just ignore the missed call totally and gain an even larger edge,\” Downey said.[three]
Assuming that instant messaging is apolitical is a big mistake. \”You can not know someone at all, look at their away message and profile and learn all there is to know about them – sexual orientation, musical interests, travel plans, best friend, phone number, relationship status,\” Downey said. As personal as profiles and short messaging may seem, Steinfield thinks IMing has also become a medium of boredom. \”Among young people, [instant messaging] has taken on its own life.\” And, \”norms differ between generations – sometimes people just say \”hey\” because they\’re bored. It\’s really equivalent to a \’poke\’ on Facebook,\” said Steinfield. The virtual nudges are little ways of saying hello, or even being flirtatious.
Journalism junior Alicia Freeze enjoys text messaging for solely this reason. It\’s \”the best way to flirt, and it\’s not personal like hearing a voice on the other end of the line,\” said the former Big Green staff writer. And on a platform of such brevity, there isn\’t much time to talk about petty detail. \”You don\’t have to say, \’What\’s your major?,\’ or any of that bullshit greeting stuff. You can just say, like, \’What are you doing tonight?\’ or \’You\’re cute,\’\” Freeze said.
Whatevs, We Like it
Rather than turning away from technological saturation, we\’re embracing it. Sanchez wonders, \”How did we live without these [forms of communication] before?\” Without questioning the past, it\’s hard to understand the present and, essentially, the future. Even though the preceding generations had little or no reliance on these extended communications, besides phone and some e-mail, it\’s obvious that human nature is progressing. The natural evolution of being able to stay connected and up-to-date is just another dimension of the complicated web of people we call bitch, avoid awkward moments for or even wish to flirt with. Some people even rely on instant messaging and texting to maintain intimate relations. \”If you have to be away, it\’s a nice way to communicate,\” Sanchez said. \”However, you could move across the world and think it wasn\’t a big deal because of the advancement of technology.\”
[four]Relying too heavily on technology can cause sarcastic remarks to sound sour and not tongue-in-cheek, or can leave questions unanswered. It\’s a multi-dimensional medium in terms of dynamics and how many different people are connected concurrently, but sometimes messages are simply lost in cyber translation. In a text message, ironically, social work senior Caitlin Herrold said, \”other than convenience, nothing is good about text messaging.\”
Despite what technology may or may not mean to you is almost beside the point. In a complicated world that is almost post-wired and looming on wireless adaptability, we are all becoming acclimated. \”I don\’t know what the new inventions will be, but when they\’re created we will find ways to use them,\” said Sanchez. Surely, we will. But in the meantime, avoid texting at high speeds, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend via AIM and remember to stay comfortably connected.

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