Students overanalyze subtleties in text messages

December 5, 2013 6:15 AMComments Off

Story by Allison Trebacz

A group of friends sit around one night while one of them texts a certain “someone.”

Before they hit send, they show the message to everyone in the room for approval and only when everyone agrees will they hit send.

Then, they wait and once that “someone” replies the response is read aloud and analyzed in a way that resembles reading tedious poetry in a literature class.

Punctuation, vocabulary and word choice are broken down until they can all agree on a logical interpretation. Then they reply and the “conversation” continues like this for most of the night.

Many have been here at one point or another, and whether it was recently or years ago most can agree that, too often, texts like the ones in the example above are broken apart, letter by letter for over-analysis. And if it’s not done publicly anymore, it’s been ingrained and now we do it in private with the very same critical eye.

All of these texts messages say, essentially, the same thing, “Hey.” So why are they each perceived differently? Because teenagers and young adults have developed their own, subtle variation of English that is both unique and hyper-specific.

This digital dialect that replaces actual human interaction is causing an unprecedented amount of stress and over-emphasizing of the value of the “text.”

According to a Pew survey in the middle of 2012, 97 percent of young adults (between the ages of 18 and 29)  used cell phones to text.

The same survey from 2011 reported only 75 percent of young adults, a 23 percent increase in the span of a year. Either we’re getting better at communicating, more obsessed with it or a mix of the two.

But why are the linguistics of texting so important to college students? Well, according to that same Pew survey, 75 percent of high-school graduates use texting while college students and college graduates used texting 10 percent more.

Every single person has his or her own voice in digital messaging and his or her own variation of a popular dialect.

Texting is unusual because it offers such a limited number of characters and space. Because of this, texters have little room to be unique must make very use of every small space.

Each piece of punctuation is a gesture, each included or excluded letter is a personality mark and in the world of texting, word order and grammar choice reflect entire personalities.

The good news is, according to the journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 82 percent of young people text their romantic partner multiple times during the day, but their relationship is no more connected than one that doesn’t. Texting isn’t harmful in relationships when used in moderation.

“I feel like it benefits us to a point,” said junior broadcasting major Anneliese Tarnowski of her own relationship with a fellow Drake student. “We go to school together, so we have the opportunity to be together in person a lot. The only way we really use (texting) is to make potential plans for hanging out, see if each other is home and sometimes to share exciting news if it just can’t wait. In that respect, it seems beneficial.”

Those working through long-distance relationships where texting might be their only communication for days, would say that texting can be destructive.

“It limits what you can say, and, over time, if it’s your only constant communication, misinterpretation happens and it can definitely put an unnecessary strain on a relationship,” said Alexis Schrieber, a sophomore pharmacy major.

In texting, every word and every space matters. This is interesting in a college atmosphere where people come from many different backgrounds and the same would go for the digital dialect they use and read with.

In addition, students in college are more trained to analyze everything and this results in miscommunication and misinterpretation because we read all texts in our very own digital dialect.

“Honestly, though, making communication easier takes away impact. And makes it less meaningful. In reality, I think it’s more hurtful,” Tarnowski said.

In most writing, periods are expected to end sentences without ever being questioned but in most digital dialects, ending a sentence with a period is often read off as blunt and almost aggressive. The same goes for one-words answers and slow replies (to reader interpretation) without explanation.

Text messages are flat no matter how punctuated someone’s digital dialect is. Tone in a text can never be as evident as it is in a phone call. Texting makes it easy to lie when there isn’t a background to silence and when something can only be explained in only so many characters.

An argumentative tone can be communicated on accident when someone’s trying to be funny.

And, perhaps, one of the worst things about texting in relationships is the inability to back-track and elaborate.

Because what is sent, can’t be unsent and how the receiver interprets that message is up to him or her.

The sender can only do so many things to emphasize his or her point and this is why it is so easy to fall into fights through text. Text misinterpretation is an epidemic that stirs up drama over a few letters from the alphabet or the use of proper grammar. Some of us have witnessed break-ups over one stray comma that changed the whole meaning of a sentence.

“Mostly textual relationships can’t be good. They just can’t,” Tarnowski said. “It’s not a natural way to communicate. Seeing someone’s eyes, having their full attention, that’s what makes a conversation impactful.”

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