The Lank Tank

Why so serious?

Not Down With SMS…

Posted by lanktank on November 6, 2008

Technology is great. I’m a big fan. You name it; Bluetooth, iPods, VoIP, DVD, PVR, LAN, MMS…OCD and I encourage it. Granted, I don’t know what they all mean (I’ve noticed a lot of three letter acronyms?) or what they all do, but I’ve come to accept the growth of technology and I celebrate it. However, something I have always struggled to come to terms with is The SMS. I know, I know, The SMS has been around for years and we have all come to embrace it. Not me. I still seem to have a love-hate relationship with the whole SMS “way of life.”

Short Message Service (SMS) according to the wonders of Wikipedia is, “a communications protocol allowing the interchange of short text messages between mobile phone devices.” And it’s the SMS technology that has “facilitated the development and growth of text messaging.” That is my real issue: It’s not the SMS per se but it’s the text messaging or texting as ‘they’ say. What we here in SA call “SMSing is the thing that I can’t come to terms with.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very helpful. If I’m running late to meet a friend for lunch – I love the fact that I can quickly pop her a little text saying, “Be there in 10”. And then she can text back, saying “Make it 15”. If you need to cancel on a party invitation (which you never intended on going to anyway) without actually wanting to talk to the person, SMS is ideal for this. I mean, we all know how awkward those conversations can be. But it has also become a very cold and heartless way of dealing with people and an excuse not to make an effort when really, effort should be made.

For example, you’re out one night and you meet a guy. He’s cute and funny and he asks you for your number. After much speculation (or perhaps not) you give it to him and now, from that moment on, you’re in the agonising phase of “will he or won’t he call.” And as if that isn’t hard enough to deal with, if he does actually decide to get hold of you, you can bet these days it’s not with a phone call. It’s certainly not with a telegraph and it’s definitely not by pigeon carrier. No, it’s our friend The SMS.

I can just picture it now: You’re sitting in your lounge three days after you met Mr Potentially Right, checking your phone every two minutes, just in case you didn’t hear it all 20 centimetres away from you (did I leave it on silent?), losing your mind ever so slightly, when suddenly “Beep beep….Beep beep…” Ooh what’s this? Why an SMS! And it’s Mr Potentially Right: “Hey, how r u? Jst sayin hi, cheerz Mrk.” This is what you’ve waited 3 days, 14 hours and 26 minutes for? One tiny text message that barely has enough letters in it to form actual words, received during off peak time no less, which you inevitably end up replying to.

Now you get to go back and forth in this ridiculous “hard to get but not SO much” tennis match of finger tapping for God knows how long until at the end of it all there may or may not be an invitation to dinner or a movie or a drink at a random club with 200 other people IF you’re lucky. And what the most disturbing part is; we’re fine with it. We all find this completely acceptable – men and women. And I do sort of understand it. It’s because if the other person turns out not to be interested in you, you don’t have to face the rejection. It’s easier to put yourself out there when you’re just writing to a cell phone.

But the problem with SMSing is that there is only so much you can say in a 160 character message and this includes the spaces between the words! And what’s even worse is people agonise over what to say in their SMS because it’s their only shot. You have 160 characters to make an impression and somehow get across to the opposite sex exactly what kind of person you really are; “ I’m a funny, easy going, semi-intelligent woman with a slightly off-the-wall sense of humour and I like Kevin Smith movies and hikes up the mountain, oh, and also carrot cake,” all in one sentence.

This is why we find ourselves typing, then retyping, shortening words, calling our friends to get them to read and interpret the “oh so vital” message, breaking a sweat over whether to end the SMS off with L.O.V.E – that might be too forward, maybe I should just say L.U.V – It seems a bit more casual. Or maybe I should not put anything there, but then at the end of the message, add a smiley face?

I have a question: When did the smiley face become the scapegoat for every single message anyone could possibly send? I mean honestly, a colon and a closed bracket give you leeway to say absolutely anything you like and the person reading the message is just not allowed to question the statement or be offended. “I love you :)” – What does that mean? As a friend or is this something more? “We need to start seeing other people :)” – Is this a joke or are you trying to break up with me in a nice way? “I sometimes feel like a monkey :)” – Ooohh k “Stop smsing me and fuck off :)” – I hate the smiley face.

The real problem with SMS is that you have no idea what the persons tone is. You don’t know if they are joking, if they are happy, angry or being sarcastic and it can cause a lot of confusion and also destroy a potentially great friendship or relationship because of one silly misinterpretation. In 2000, 17 billion text messages were being sent to people all across the world. Since 2004, that number has increased to over 500 billion. That is a lot of finger tapping and a lot less interacting.

This is when I miss, dare I say, the good old days, when there were no cell phones and a person had to actually pick up the phone with its long, dangling cord extension and have to talk to a human being (even if the phone was in the lounge and your parents could hear everything you were saying).

I’m not saying I’m against the SMS. I appreciate the use for it and in everyday activities it’s very practical. I love it when my bank sends me an SMS telling me when payments are being made even though I didn’t authorise any, or when a friend sends me an encouraging note wishing me luck for a meeting (OK, none of my friends do that). But the SMS should not be a substitute for a conversation.

It’s hard I know, to pluck up the courage and talk to an actual human, but the outcome is far more rewarding. And if it’s not, at least you didn’t have to waste all your airtime SMSing someone 18 times before you got the real message. So please people, I urge you all to pick up the phone, grab the rhino by its horns (or is it a bull?) and you never know; it may not be so scary after all.

2 Responses to “Not Down With SMS…”

  1. Evert said

    First comment EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Nic said

    Gr8 story! 🙂

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