Text messages and my shortcomings as a social human.

I hung out with a longtime friend on Saturday night. Well, afternoon and evening, really. Being old, by 10pm, we were done, and back at my house. Exhausted, we said goodbye and he took off. I showered and got into bed. Then we had a 45-minute text message conversation, mostly about his iPhone, which I was helping troubleshoot. But as I fell asleep, I couldn’t help but wonder: what is it about text messaging that is so unavoidably appealing to so many people? I love it myself, and prefer it in many social scenarios. I tried to distill it down to a few key elements to understand it better. This is what I landed on:

  1. Time investment
  2. Social grace
  3. Psychological/cognitive load

There are factors spread across these three areas that I think resonate with people on different levels, depending on who you are and how you interact with the people with whom you communicate. Picture it as a pie chart, rearranging percentages based on situation or personality. I’m going to examine these from my own perspective, but I’d be curious to know if I’m right about these for other people, and if so, how the percentages fall at any given time.

Time investment, or ‘why would I want to sit on the phone with you?’

I recall being a 7th grader when my parents decided it was time for me to have a telephone in my room. I got to pick out the one I wanted (even then, I was pragmatic; nothing fancy–a nice keypad with rubbery keys and a slim design) and they got me my own line. This was probably because we used our house line for my dad’s business as well as our family stuff. Either way, it was a big deal. I spent a lot of time on that phone that year. I remember calling friends and just laying there watching TV or doing nothing at all, in almost complete silence, for hours. Teenagers are weird.

Now, time spent on the phone is purely a tactical measure. If I have to be on the phone, you’d better well believe it’s to accomplish a task or set of objectives that I literally can not complete in any other way. The notion of sitting on the phone talking to someone for hours is simply exhausting no matter how I picture it. In fact, I’m getting a neck ache just thinking about it. For a variety of reasons, my time is so much more precious now than when I had my burgeoning 7th grade agenda meticulously organized in my Trapper Keeper. I don’t think I’m alone here, either. Anyone with small children would probably agree that free time just isn’t what it used to be. And even if you consider something like a phone connected to a Bluetooth headset, you’re still expending mental energy to maintain that phone call as you do other things. It just isn’t tenable anymore for many of us.

Texting is easier, quicker, and accepted in almost all situations. I say almost all because there are still an obvious number of things that absolutely require phone calls–family emergencies, relationship issues of any kind, etc.

Social grace, or ‘did you really just say that?’

Our mouths work very differently when we speak in a conversational context with other people as opposed to when we are thinking alone and can form words within the walls of our minds. Everyone has muttered something that probably didn’t really need to come out, and regardless of whether it’s embarrassing, destructive, unpleasant, or merely a misstatement, we recognize it and feel it. The more magnanimous individuals among us brush this off to make others feel better, but there’s something to be said for having some semblance of forethought and tact prior to speaking.

I feel like the slight delay sending a text message affords us allows me to reflect, even for a moment, on what I think I want to say. I can pause, process, and respond in a way that speaking in real-time doesn’t always afford me. I like to think I’m pretty quick on my feet anyway, and can feel fairly comfortable speaking extemporaneously about a lot of things to all kinds of different folks, but even still, I know I’m not conversationally infallible. A joke may land flat, I may inadvertantly insult someone who I’ve only just met, or I might just be an asshole thinking I’m being delightful. I try to be cognizant of these moments, but they still come up from time to time. Text messages give me that added advantage of stopping myself for a heartbeat to do a quick assessment.

There’s a flip side to this, of course. Context, sarcasm, tone, and a great many other things can be lost, mistranslated, or otherwise morph in the worst of ways in the course of a text message conversation. It’s very easy to make the same mistakes you would in a spoken conversation with typed words. And emoji only goes so far.

Psychological/cognitive load, or ‘sweet mother of mercy, just shut up for a minute’

I am someone who has a finite amount of patience for speaking of any kind. If I’m embroiled in a conversation that I can’t find a way out of, or I’m tired of, or whatever, I try to be kind (operative word: try) and see my way clear to another part of the room. The bathroom and I are intimately acquainted with this little dance. Talking can be exhausting! Being around people is tiring! I am totally outing myself as a hermit-in-waiting, but I don’t care. I used to think it was funny to just wander away quietly, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’m not a Wes Anderson character, and that this kind of behavior just makes me a dick.

Text messages allow me to be the very best dick I can be. I have a little kid. Anything can happen. I have a pregnant wife who watches that kid most of the day and needs respite when I get home. I’m a busy guy at work and have many obligations. I occasionally operate a motor vehicle and I make a great effort to do so safely. There is no end to the amount of reasons I can’t respond to you right this minute, or had to wander away from our text conversation. And if you’re going to get bent out of shape about that because I was nice enough to turn read receipts on, I’ve got some pro tips on not caring. Just ask. This freedom is intoxicating. This actually builds on the previous two elements: there’s an asynchronous time factor working in my favor, as well as the delicate social balance of not being obnoxious to someone in person. This is my pool, and I am Michael Fucking Phelps when it comes to this shit.

I’ve been texting for years now. I never get tired of it. I think my love for it grows every day. And when I love something, I guess I find it enjoyable to examine why. It helps me understand myself a little more, and I’d say it’s a valuable exercise. Even if it’s through an asinine blog post, it’s worth something to stop and think about our motivations around certain activities. Self-reflection by way of emoji poop. Sounds about right.

Quick memes with Workflow.

Something I do a lot (for better or worse) is look for silly images online, and apply text over them, for ostensibly comedic purposes. How effective this is depends on a variety of factors, such as alcohol intake for the evening, who the intended recipient is, etc. Anyway, there’s this amazing new app called Workflow that is bound to make so many things on iOS so much cooler and easier. It’s truly a groundbreaking achievement, and as such, I decided the first noble application of this new power would be to extend my reach as a horse’s ass.

With that, I introduce my first workflow. I’ll probably revise it, and I’m certainly looking for feedback if you’re the kind of person who can make it better. Please get in touch. Anyway, here’s what it does. It’s saved as a shortcut in Launch Center Pro. When I tap it:

  • The Workflow app launches
  • I’m prompted to enter some text
  • I’m sent to Safari for a Google search on that term, where I can pick “images” and find something
  • I find an image and copy it to the clipboard
  • A second workflow that sits as an extension 1 returns me to Workflow (the app is told to wait until I return to continue executing the flow)
  • Upon returning to the foreground, it opens the clipboard contents in the image editor
  • From here I can add text quickly
  • The new image is saved to the Camera Roll
  • Then my Twitter app opens, and I can drop the new asinine image right into a tweet

I know for sure that I can tighten this up, and I plan to keep tweaking it, as well as try to do something legitimately productive with this unbelievable app. But this was a great little exercise to figure everything out and now I have a handle on the basics.

If you want to try it out, you can install the following:

Add Text to Photo

Return to Workflow (action extension)

Have fun and make lots of hilarious pictures!

  1. I reached out to Ari for a hand relaunching the app from the action extension since I couldn’t get the default URL to work. What’s currently saved in that extension will likely change as the team updates the URL scheme(s) for the app, so keep that in mind. For the time being, it functions as expected. 

How to Takk… about Sigur Rós albums.

We really like Sigur Rós at the office. However, like you, we have found it’s really hard to speak about the albums because of their… interesting names. So we came up with a system to refer to them, and you’re welcome to use it. It is as follows.

Will now be known as “Ghost Baby”.

Will now be known as “Tree Trellis” or just “Trellis” for short.

Will now be known as “Buttcheeks”.

Will now be known as “Angel Embryo”.

Will now be known as “Parentheses”.

Will now be known as “Instagram Ocean”.

Will now be known as “Planets 1 and 2″.

Will now be known as “Scary Mask” or “General Grievous”.

Feel free to share this guide with your friends who also struggle with Icelandic pronunciation while enjoying the dreamlike soundscapes this great band provides us.

Back in black.

When I bought my iPhone 5 on launch day, I opted for the slate/black model. I used it for a few months until I got a white iPad mini. At that point, I began obsessing over having a white iPhone, which I had never owned. The QA department needed a 5 for testing, so I threw my black one in the pool and got myself a white 5. I was so over black. Ugh.

I adored it. Together with the mini, they were the perfect couple. I named it Storm Shadow (the mini was, of course, Storm Shadow XL). We began a meaningful relationship, the three of us.

Then the iPhone 5s shipped, with its slightly modified grey back plating. And I looked askance. I also didn’t upgrade, so I wasn’t even considering either one really. But a few people at work got them, and I took a look. Still felt weird to me. I was in White Phone Land.

Naturally, I began obsessing over this as severely, because evidently my life, though full of adult responsibility and legitimate stress, had a few cognitive gaps in it that I was able to fill with this inane thought exercise. Not really wanting to spend the money on a 5s to test my theory that I truly loved black, I decided to pull my old phone out of QA and put the white one in. Restored from iCloud and I was up in less than an hour.

I now believe that despite iOS 7’s lighter tones, the black devices (phones specifically) are truly superior in their hardware aesthetics. On the iPhone, the screen disappears entirely from most angles, leaving you with a formidable black monolith, which when lit looks very close to Ed Dillinger’s desk in the original Tron. Naturally, coming to this realization this week made me positively giddy, and I hereby renounce all allegiance to my former white phone, which for all I care can be devoured by wolves.

The iPad mini still looks better in white, though. Feel free to good-naturedly argue about this and all previous claims with me on the internet.

Oh – and the black phone’s name? Snake Eyes, of course.

Tech confession.

I’m emotionally split when I see people rocking a ridiculously old cellphone. Part of me wants to laugh and jump up and down and point at them and make them feel as silly as possible for still using something that old when there are SO many other options. I mean, come on! You can walk into any carrier store and pretty much walk out with a better phone for free! I can’t even imagine the presumably god-awful battery life on that thing. How long does it hold a charge, that Nokia you got in ’99? An hour? Fifteen minutes? One call?

Conversely, I’m secretly a little jealous that their life is, at least on the surface, perfectly manageable with such a device. All they really need to do is make phone calls, and they might not even do that so much. No one’s buzzing them with emails, demanding action on their part. I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat because I had a nightmare that I was forced to give up my iPhone for something like a RAZR. And then, a tiny voice, deep, deep inside whispers, “would it really be that bad?”

It’s usually at those moments that I grab my current phone and fire up no fewer than six different apps in quick succession to prove to myself that it’s totally worth it. Because if I start doubting now, the entire architecture of my adult life and livelihood comes crashing down around me. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s pretty freaking awesome. Yeah, so suck it, hopelessly old phone users. There, now I feel better.