Thinking of sending that quick “I love you” text? do it
my son Ready to leave home for a programming bootcamp five years ago, I worried that his communication style wouldn’t match my need for updates. I didn’t want to tempt Justin (not his real name) but I needed to know he’s okay living over a thousand miles away. Before he left, I requested a weekly update by phone, email, or text. Justin chose texting.
Using short written notes is nothing new. Folded notes in a stick-like fashion travel through rows of indifferent students for generations. Then, almost overnight, handwritten notes were replaced by emails. Countless social shares, errands, lists, and updates travel faster, farther, and more through text messages. Text messaging is the most used smartphone feature, so it was no surprise that Justin chose this method of communication.
Watching him go through airport security with a backpack and no checked baggage, I was relieved to know that I would receive an arrival letter followed by weekly updates. Over time, interview preparation and first job postings for garden and family summaries circulated, while news of exercise, diet, and the epidemic flowed both ways. Justin flew home, my husband and I visited, but my son’s letters were as important as the visits—at least to me. Over the years, we may have shared so much through writing as if we had been able to speak on a weekly basis.
The asynchronous nature of texting is a big factor in its success. Texting is ideal for those too busy with work, school, or families to add simultaneous or real-time conversations to their day, says Glenn Morgan, a retired clinical psychologist and behavioral sciences researcher at the National Institutes of Health. Both parties do not have to be available to talk via text messages. The response is more convenient because time allows rather than interrupting the day to have a phone conversation.
The texts are short in nature, which is another advantage for those with busy lives. Morgan says texting is a great way to communicate when there is a competition for time; Dispatchers get a lot of connection for their efforts. “Text messages can be very effective with just 30 seconds or a minute of effort, unlike phone calls where the expected time is much longer,” he added. Few phone calls last less than a minute or two, but many messages are that short.
Eric Cardwell, a single and pair therapist, said that humans have a strong need to feel connected to one another. “FMRI studies show that pain centers in the brain have less activity during periods of human contact,” he says. This social connection also helps reduce anxiety and depression. You can make these connections in many ways, such as by touch, voice, and even text. Cardwell sums up communication via text succinctly, “Content doesn’t have to be long for communication to be massive.”
One advantage of having a consistent texting routine, Morgan said, is that it avoids the social anxiety of starting a conversation. It can be exhausting to always be the one to initiate, even in a text conversation. Justin and I fell into the pattern of communication very quickly. I initially texted all week, but Justin stuck to one text on a Sunday evening. I received a response weekly, and we’ve maintained this routine ever since.