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Talking Instead of Texting Can Save Relationships

Research shows texting can deprive relationships of intimacy and conversation.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Today the English faculty received notice of new requirements for our fall syllabus. As I pulled together my notes, I thought that a good start might be a Ted Talk by Sherry Turkle, author of “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.” The syllabus email reminded me one of the challenges that we face today -- the impulse to answer a text. Texting becomes intrusive in the classroom, at the dinner table, when out with friends, or even on a date. In the classroom students have developed the ability to look right at you and continue texting in hopes that you did not catch their feigned attention.

Dr. Turkle, a licensed clinical psychologist, is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. Her words began to resonate:

“Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt.”

Think about it, that little smart phone deprives us from hearing words, meaning, and feeling. In her book she points out research that tells us that “without conversation, we are less empathetic, less connected, less creative and fulfilled.”

According to a Pew Research Center Study in 2015,

"Some 92% of U.S. adults now have a cellphone of some kind, and 90% of those cell owners say that their phone is frequently with them. Some 31% of cell owners say they never turn their phone off and 45% say they rarely turn it off. This “always-on” reality has disrupted long-standing social norms about when it is appropriate for people to shift their attention away from their physical conversations and interactions with others towards digital encounters with people and information that are enabled by their mobile phone."

Even a silenced phone on a table sets up a barrier triggering a decreased quality of interaction and the same is true of students who place their phones on their desk.

Dr. Shanhong Luo, a social-personality psychologist at North Carolina University, studies relationships. In research reported in 2014, “Effects of texting on satisfaction in romantic relationships: The role of attachment," Dr. Luo noted that college students who spent a significant amount of time texting were less satisfied with their relationship than other couples. It appeared that texting replaced kinder and more intimate communication.

Texting “I love you,” can be sweet, but it can also become robotic with a heart emoji or a kiss. While it is fun to receive a love note, it may be far less meaningful than a quick phone call. Telling someone in a sincere tone of voice, “I called to say I love you because you were so supportive when I was falling apart this morning,” is more powerful than any text.

At the other end of the spectrum is the angry text, a way to avoid facing a problem and fixing it. When couples argue face-to-face, there is the opportunity for one person to say, “Please, I think you may have misunderstood me.”

Texting can also be a way to mask feelings or intentions. While so many young people today say, “I’d rather text than talk,” one must wonder if this is simply an excuse to avoid talking about a relationship problem. Avoidance sets the stage for a peripheral relationship rather than one based on honesty and intimacy.

If you are a texter, it is best to do so for:

  • Clarifying a time and date of a meeting.
  • Sending directions to an address.
  • Asking only one question at a time to get the best response.
  • Setting a time for a phone conversation or even better getting together.

Never use texting:

  • While at the dinner table, in the classroom, or on a date.
  • To end a relationship because you are too afraid or indifferent for face-to-face.
  • For saying something hurtful because you are angry.
  • As a tease with half a message and then leaving the other person wondering.

On the positive side, with a new relationship, texting can be a way to flirt. After an initial meeting, if you really want to connect with the other person, say so. Be direct. “I’m happy we met today. I’d like to get together this week. What day is best for you?” This helps start a relationship based on the art of conversation, a first step toward “getting to know you.” #

When Love is Rejected: 8 Ways to Cope in a Texting World

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson /


Rainie, L., Zickuhr, K. “Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette.” Pew Research Center. August, 2015. Available at:…

Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? | TED Talk |

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