LOST IN TRANSLATION

From “SEX, LIFE AND LOVE”, THE SUNDAY HERALD SUN (2004)

The text message has become the anti Christ of meaningful social interaction. It is making us lazy, cowardly, ambiguous communicators and has been recently threatening both my potential and existing relationships. Don’t even get me started on Facebook…

Every 10 minutes I receive an email telling me one of my friends has messaged me on Facebook. And not necessarily friends who are continents away, some live three blocks away. After reading that a friend of mine had just been offered a new job, I was just about to post a congratulations message when I thought “why don’t I just contact her directly”.

So I TEXTED her instead: CONGRATS ON NEW JOB! She texted back: THNX! DRINK SOON?
And then I texted back: SURE x.
And then she texted back: CLL U NXT WK x.

We still haven’t found time for that drink. But she has posted some great pictures of the last time we had drinks on Facebook.

I texted her to say: G8 PICS ON FCBK x.

Then she texted back… anyway, you get the point.

The sound of a new message in your inbox or on your mobile (or in the case of blackberry uses – both simultaneously) means that someone is reaching out to you. But is it merely a sign of time-saving, risk aversive and even unromantic social behaviour? Asking someone out on a date no longer requires hours of building up to that rejection-tempting (albeit character building) phone call.

The text message or email message offers a far less confronting alternative: R u free Sat nite? It is even making us lazy friends. One of my best friends is not very good at returning phone calls (to be frank – she really sucks at it).

But she insists on constantly sending me those annoying chain friendship emails that lovingly advise you to “forward this on to ten of your truest friends or you’ll be hit by a truck”. And there is just something irritatingly ironic about receiving a group email about “true friendship” from someone who hasn’t returned your three last phone calls.

Emailing or text messaging has also become the cowardly way to deliver undesirable news. How many times have you received a message from a friend you are meeting in an hour which reads: “srry, cnt mke 2nte! cll u 2mrw”? (By the way, spare a thought for the innocent vowel, the true casualty of the text message epidemic). One of my friends was even broken up with via text message: “Its nt wrking. Dnt b angry”.

Alternatively, I sometimes receive a text message from a friend which is so long it arrives in more than one instalment and must have easily taken 10 or 15 minutes to write (even with predicative text). It takes me an equal amount of time to text back my reaction to all the information she texted me. It occurred to me later we could have conducted this exchange in person in half the time, with twice the poignancy.

Why didn’t we? Worse still, her responses to my responses kept interrupting the real conversation I was having over lunch with my friend who had finally returned my calls.

Emailing and text messaging also leaves communication far more open to misinterpretation. Sarcasm for comedic purposes is all in the delivery and tone does not always translate in cyberspace. Also, economy of phrasing can be perceived as overly curt or perfunctory.

Then there’s the emailers or texters who over explain or rant on for paragraphs about something they could say in two sentences. But the number one message sending hazard of all time is texting or sending an unflattering message ABOUT someone TO them by mistake.

It’s the second after you press SEND that you realise what you have done. And as your life flashes before your eyes, you have to ask yourself whether all this technology is really helping anyone.

However, technology can also help bring people together. A good friend of mine was out last weekend at a crowded bar and met a guy. She was quite drunk and couldn’t quite remember what he looked like or what is last name was (she did remember pashing him extensively before she got in her cab). They had not exchanged numbers. Just when she was becoming frantic about how to contact him again – she received a message from him on Facebook. He even uploaded photographs of them he had taken on his mobile that night.

Another friend of mine spotted a guy she used to work with in a photograph on another friend’s Facebook. She was able to reconnect with him and now they are dating.

There must be a way to find a balance where we can all enjoy the conveniences of modern technology without becoming slaves to it. Phones and blackberries need to be switched off during face to face conversations. Facebook should never be a substitute to sharing a coffee by the sea and talking should be practised over text messaging except in cases of extreme emergency.

After all, what’s the point of communication without real connection?