It’s easy to feel like we live in the future. The science fiction of our childhood is now the reality of our daily lives. Technology that was once exotic is becoming more and more common place; (almost) self driving cars are on the market and virtual reality devices are fairly standard gear for video game enthusiasts. But despite these exciting advancements, nothing has benefitted from the technology boom as much as the field of communications. And since automated cars and virtual reality are making us rethink transportation and entertainment, it’s time we start thinking about communication from a different angle.
We have been presented with a plethora of new methods of communication in just the past few decades, and sometimes it is tricky to figure out which one to use. If I browse through my phone’s notifications screen, I have a text message from my brother, a Slack notification from work, two missed calls (oops), a Facebook message from a group of college friends, and in the spirit of anachronism, an email from an ancient listserv that my cycling club has used since before I was old enough to ride a bike. Just in the brief span of time since I last checked my phone, all of these separate methods of communication have been used to achieve the same goal: to get in touch with me. Is it truly necessary to utilize all of these separate methods when just 10 years ago, a phone call would have sufficed? The simple answer is yes, and in some cases, the method of communication is just as important as the message itself.
Out of all those methods I listed, the phone call is the real stand out of the group. With texting and other forms of more or less instant messaging, a delay in communication is expected. A phone call, on the other hand, implies urgency (I should probably call them back). When your phone rings, you are presented with two choices, either ignore the call, or drop what you are doing and give it your full attention. This is great for truly urgent matters, but not so great when you are busy and someone wants to chat about the latest episode of This is Us. Now, contrast the urgency of a phone call with the careful deliberation of a text message. If you are busy, almost no one is going to be upset if you wait 5 minutes to respond, and if they are upset, then the conversation is probably better suited to a phone call anyway.
Aside from being able to answer at your own convenience, there are many other reasons that a text message can be the superior choice to a phone call.
- You have time to deliberate and plan your response. Communicating with others can often be an emotional affair, and the ability to weigh your words can be a lifesaver, especially in a professional environment.
- There is a record of your communication. While recording a phone call is often a smart decision, it isn’t always legally an option, depending on a situation. A text message is implicitly understood to be recorded.
- It’s less personal. Phone calls necessitate the usual rituals of greetings and farewells, and asking how people are and how their lives have been and so on.
- It’s private. Phone calls are audible to everyone in earshot, and whispering into your phone is likely to draw even more attention than speaking normally.
Ultimately, texting and calling are two different tools for two different jobs. And while they can be used interchangeably, it’s important to remember that the method of communication can say as much as the message itself.