By Doni Joszef
Humans have analyzed the meaning of texts for as long as they’ve been composing them. It’s an ancient intellectual sport. But digital communication, such as text messages and emails, has taken this mind game to a whole new level. The more these messages invade the screens and scenes of our
daily lives, the more we find ourselves pondering the subtleties & nuances of their senders’ deeper intentions.
In some previous articles, I explored various “games” we play in different social contexts—be they family dinners or wedding smorgasbords—and the plethora of “players” we often meet (or personify) as we unconsciously conform to these predictable roles. Here I’d like to take a step away from the realm of face-to-face encounters and browse the terrain of text message exchanges.
The Over-Enthusiastic Caps-Locker(!!). It’s not really exciting IF YOU DON’T SAY IT IN ALL CAPS WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! Some people take this to an extreme, adding letters where they don’t belong, such as “heyyyyyyy” or “what’s uuuupppp?!?” Others keep their keyboards permanently capitalized, AS THOUGH THEY’RE TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING INTENSELY MOMENTOUS, even when it’s just a reminder to pick up the dry cleaning. Don’t get me wrong—one or two exclamation points are a nice touch on occasion, but when every message is sprinkled with at least 50 lines of “!!!,” we can’t help but consider the phrase: “curb your enthusiasm.”
The Under-Enthusiastic Period Ender. On the other end of the spectrum is the guy who ends every text with a stone-cold period. As if a simple smiley face or an occasional exclamation point would show too much excitement. I’m not asking for fireworks or balloons in every text, but you can at least pretend that this is not a message from your parole officer. Consider the difference between “Sure.” and “Sure!” The period at the end makes all the difference. It’s as if you’re saying it with your arms crossed and your teeth grinding. How and why we read all this into a minuscule little dot is beyond me; just think twice before placing it at the end of a text.
The Missing-In-Action Non-Responder. Perhaps more irritating than all of the above is the passive-aggressive non-responder. I know she read my text, I know she’s not busy with more important stuff (and even if she is, I’d rather assume she’s not), so what’s taking so long? Why is she ignoring me? Doesn’t she realize that I’m impatiently waiting for her response, and with each passing moment my level of trust in her commitment to this relationship approaches closer to the brink of extinction?! By the time she finally responds, it’s usually too little, too late. If she can’t respond in real time, she may as well communicate via telegraph. Texting is for those of us who can commit ourselves entirely to the instantaneous demands of constant contact.
The Open-Ended Responder. One of the most annoying aspects of texting is the ongoing, non-conclusive, open-ended nature of the back-and-forth ping-pong game. When we talk face to face, it’s simpler to figure out when the conversation is coming to a close (assuming we’re skilled enough at either taking the hint or giving it). But texting lacks the sort of closure that talking affords. And some people are notoriously unable to conclude a text-exchange, usually replying with very ambiguous, non-committal, open-ended phrases like “I guess . . . ,” “If that’s what you want . . . ,” or “whatever . . .”
They probably want to sound easygoing and nonchalant, but their inconspicuous dot-dot-dot ending leaves us wondering “what exactly do they want us to fill in that blank?” Is that a clue to pick up where they left off? There’s clearly something being left out of this equation, and we’re not in the mood to figure out what that is. But then again, we feel like we need to respond with something. And so the ping-pong game continues . . .
The LOLer. Every reply begins and ends with an LOL, which is text-language for “I’m not really laughing but let me give you the satisfaction of thinking I am.” We naturally like it when people naturally laugh at our natural knack for humorous wit, but there’s nothing natural about an “LOL,” and the more people textually affirm the audibility of their laughter, the less likely we are to lend credibility to such giddy gestures.
The Acronym Abuser. To a certain degree, shortening long phrases into bite-sized acronyms is an expected norm in the world of digital communication. FYI is easier to type than “for your information,” and TTYL is easier to type than “Talk to you later.” I get it. We all do. But some people take the acronym game to a whole new level, forcing us to Google every other phrase of their texts just to understand that “KOBNR” means “kind of but not really,” or that “IBYDKWTSF” is short for “I bet you don’t know what this stands for.”
The ‘Let’s Talk’ Schmoozer. There’s a reason people like to text and hate to talk. It may not be a good reason, but it’s a reason, nonetheless: texting is more efficient. We don’t have to force a smile or fabricate an interest in “how things are going”; we can just cut to the chase. But some people like to schmooze, usually responding to our texts with the dreaded “let’s talk,” or “call me.” What you want to say is “I’m texting you for a reason,” but instead you just say “Will do,” which is another way of saying “Won’t do.”
• • •
As I’ve said in the past, we all play these games to a certain extent.
The key is not to label others so much as it is to catch ourselves.
We perpetuate our own personality patterns for a reason, and whether it manifests in small talk, family gatherings, or text messages, it behooves us to become mindful of the games we play and the reasons we play them.
TTYL . . . v
Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice and presents innovative workshops on a variety of psychosocial topics. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.