Is my son was about to leave home for a programming training program 5 years ago, I was worried his communication style wouldn’t suit my updated needs. I don’t want to badmouth Justin (not his real name) but know that he’s fine living over a thousand miles away. Before he left, I asked for weekly updates by phone, email or text. Justin chose texting.
The use of short written notes is not new. Folded notes travel baton-style through rows of indifferent students for generations. Then, almost overnight, handwritten notes were replaced by electronic messages. Social activities, errands, lists, and loads of updates move faster, farther, and more often through text. Text messaging is most widely used smartphone feature, so it’s no surprise that Justin chose this contact.
As I watched him go through airport security with a backpack and no checked baggage, I took comfort in knowing that I would receive an incoming text, followed by weekly updates. As time went on, the first job and interview prep newsletters traded for garden and home recaps, while workout, diet, and pandemic news flowed in both directions. Justin flew home, my husband and I came to visit, but my son’s messages were just as important as the visits — at least to me. Over the years, we’ve probably shared a lot by writing as if we’d been chatting on a weekly basis.
The asynchronous nature of messaging was a huge factor in its success. Glen Morgan, a retired clinical psychologist and behavioral science researcher at the National Institutes of Health, says texting is perfect for people who are too busy with work, school or family. to add synchronous or real-time chats to their date. Neither party is required to be present to chat via text. It is more convenient to answer when time allows than to interrupt the whole day to chat on the phone.
The text is concise in nature, which is a plus for those with busy lives. Morgan says texting is a great way to reach out when there’s a competition for time; Text writers get many connections for their efforts. He added, “Texting can be very effective with as little as 30 seconds or a minute of effort, unlike phone calls where the wait is much longer.” Few phone calls last less than a minute or two, but there are plenty of such short messages.
Eric Cardwell, an individual and couples therapist, says people have a need to feel connected. “FMRI studies show that the brain’s pain centers are less active during times of human connection,” he said. That social connection also Helps reduce anxiety and depression. You can make those connections in many ways, such as through touch, voice, and even text. Cardwell succinctly summarizes the advantage of connecting via text, “content doesn’t have to be verbose for a connection to be great.”
Morgan says that one advantage of having an established texting routine is that it avoids the social anxiety of initiating a conversation. It can be overwhelming to always be the one to initiate, even for a text conversation. Justin and I fell into a kind of communication pretty quickly. At first, I texted all week, but Justin quickly read one on Sunday night. I received weekly feedback and we have maintained this routine ever since.