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What Are the New Rules of Texting?

I certainly don't know the rules of texting, do you?

"Why isn't he texting me back?" This is undoubtedly one of the most common questions that seem to come up in my therapy sessions with college student females.

New technologies have brought with them many benefits, including making communication more immediate in crisis situations, and opening the communication channels for disabled persons such as the hearing impaired. In fact, health psychology studies are examining behavioral change interventions employing the use of texting (Cole-Lewis & Kershaw, 2010). However, this technology has also brought with it a host of problems. Namely, etiquette rules that have not been properly communicated. Even Emily Post, known for her etiquette advice, fails to comprehensively address all the issues related to texting in the current age.

The reality seems to be that there are no sure-fire rules or norms for texting. Perhaps women as the stereotypically more "communicative" sex are more likely to text? Or maybe younger individuals are more likely to have a faster text turn-around time? But we can all think of examples of "older" males that defy both rules. And the research is simply not out there to suggest predictors of texting as well as texting behavior. Most of the texting research appears to have focused on the hazards of texting while driving.

Some use texting in place of email, and regularly exceed the 160-character limit (ok, maybe that's just me, but still). Others use it to finalize social plans or ask people out on dates (who am I kidding, this generation is more likely to call it, "hanging out or something"). Many ask the question, "when is a text conversation really over?" Having wondered this many times myself, I've informally decided to use the universal happy face emoticon " :) " as a freestanding message ending entity. But this is still imperfect at best. Unless you know me, have excellent inference skills, or have had a direct conversation with me about how my happy face means I'm politely saying goodbye (because obviously actually saying good bye would be far too direct), then you may still be as lost as I am.

But better yet, perhaps another cardinal question is: is the turnaround time of the text reply you're waiting for a direct correlation of how your text companion feels about you? Do 30-minute increments predict how much your friend or romantic interest really likes you? So basically, once you've gotten to the 4-hour mark, forget it? Probably not. Some enjoy texting, others do not. Some are neurotic about it, others are more Type B-laid back and forgetful in their responses ("nothing personal" they'd say, and mean it).

Then again, some wonder how many texts in a day are appropriate. Must all texts necessarily have a clear purpose, or can you just text to say "hello"? The narcissist in me loves random texts that indicate someone other than my parents were thinking of me throughout the day. The new term "textationship" is a nod to the current phenomenon of relationships based purely on texting. Of course, such a relationship is not one that I would ever recommend. However, this does not mean it cannot realistically occur in this day and age where it is possible to text, Skype, and talk on the phone all at the same time. Texting can certainly sustain relationships that may not be maintained otherwise. Yet, the issue of quality time and relationships that require genuine investment comes to the forefront. Ultimately, the relationships that involve true connection of the non-technological variety are the ones that will be most fulfilling.

At the end of the day, I don't have any more answers than the next person. In a conversation with one of my undergraduate research assistants, I mentioned that I learned to text 2 years ago. This whirlwind of text talk and expectations has certainly made me a bit dizzy in a short period of time. "Learning to text at 23 just wouldn't happen these days," she told me. "Can you imagine being 23, and not know how to text!?" We laughed about it, but point well taken. So perhaps then someone who did not learn to text in their geriatric years would be so kind as to tell me. What are the rules of texting? Anyone?

Cole-Lewis, H., & Kershaw, T. (2010). Text messaging as a tool for behavior change in disease prevention and management. Epidemiological Review, 32, 56-69.