Concocting a text message can be quite serious business. As I peer at my phone and cautiously type, I pray that I can successfully summon the shrewdness that is necessary to get the job done. I reflect upon several complicated variables — the recipient’s opinion on acronyms, the pleasantness of our past interactions, the enthusiasm that the recipient currently displays toward me in person — and end up writing and re-writing several drafts. After a while, I am completely swamped.
If a social blunder occurs in person, I know I can laugh it off and try to convince myself later that it never happened. Unfortunately, that luxury does not extend to texting. After a text has been unleashed, it’s impossible to deny its existence — and its potential to haunt you forever.
Another worrisome aspect of texting is the inherently revelatory nature of your style. I have noticed a lot of very cool people have their auto-caps turned off. But if I turn my auto-caps off, are people going to think that I am intentionally presenting myself as a cool person? And while I’m slightly suspicious that my auto-caps may be interpreted as tacky, it’s the default setting, so I tell myself I can’t be judged as harshly for it.
Emojis are a whole other level of complexity. Personally, I have no qualms with emojis because they’re just cute little illustrations, which makes me feel like adopting an anti-emoji stance would be taking myself way too seriously. Yet at the same time, I am cognizant that some emojis are really only acceptable when they’re incorporated in an ironic fashion. When I start texting someone new, I have to determine if they’re pro-emoji, anti-emoji or pro ironic emoji. Sending that first emoji causes my heart to thud.
There is also something to be said about the pressure to emulate the other party’s texting style, but also not to appear too conspicuous when going about it. If you match the other person’s texting style too much, it becomes obvious and, consequently, off-putting — overdo it and it seems obsessive, even downright obsequious.
But, if you manage to vaguely capture the essence of the other party’s lexicon and syntax, you can be a tad more confident that your texts will be received well. While I strive to not completely abandon my own voice, adopting someone else’s texting style can sometimes make a conversation feel more natural and comfortable. Sometimes I feel weird subconsciously stealing the other person’s personality, yet it is difficult to refrain from doing so.
The real bummer is when a perfectly crafted text is disregarded. I would appreciate a response, otherwise my mind jumps to very grotesque and drastic conclusions: The recipient was probably hit by a car, or worse, doesn’t like me anymore. I understand that people are busy and presumably have other things going on in their lives. Some people also take a while to respond to texts because like me, they find the process stressful.
If a couple of days go by without a response, I cannot help but wonder if I said something wrong or uninteresting (maybe that emoji was a bad idea). I then have to calculate whether it is worth it to double or triple text. Will this show that I am excited to talk to the other person, and that I am unconcerned about how I will look if I text several times? Or will this suggest that I am desperate and more invested in our conversation than they are? I end up having to decide between preserving my dignity or double-texting.
In many ways, a text message can be interpreted as a performance piece. It requires a series of decisions, is devised with the audience in mind and reflects the mental space of the sender. Each punctuation mark is deliberate, and every word is consciously selected. Perhaps there is appeal in its opportunity for artificiality — it allows people to grasp control over their image, making it wildly popular among young people. Although it can prove anxiety-provoking, it is also fun to think of each message as an artistic choice. It provides a glimpse into how one would like to be perceived.