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October 12, 2009 | by  | in Opinion |
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Text Messaging—A Barrier to Social Flow?

In Australia, mobile phone plans, by way of default, tend to encourage phone calls rather than texts.

Through a sly and conceited money laundering scheme, whereby your credit expires after a month, Aussie mobile providers make sure you make more phone calls. The policy reeks of tyranny; does the fuel you buy for your car expire after a month if you haven’t driven your car enough? Does your credit balance on your debit card expire at the end of the month if you haven’t spent your money? No. You buy something, and it’s yours to choose when and how you want to use it.

In Australia, Vodafone, 3, Telstra, all provide the same experience; you buy a prepay cap of $30, or $50, which buys you ‘$150’ or ‘$250’ worth of phone credit. If you were to make no calls and just text your friends, say ten to 20 times a day, there’s no way you’d use all that credit by the end of the month. Therefore when the time is right to call a friend, one doesn’t hesitate to do so.

When I arrived back to New Zealand, I pulled out my trusty Vodafone NZ sim, inserted it plaintively into my phone, bought a $20 top up and off I canoodled to hit up me maties. Two days, and literally two phone calls later, I was out of credit, save the trusty ol’ text 2000. “Okay” I thought, “no worries, I can text all I want, but not call”. So I did. And that’s what my friends did. And after a month, I suddenly realised I’d texted most of my friends, but hadn’t talked to or seen many of them. I felt a strange sense of… of having been ‘jibbed’. Where were all my mates? What were they doing that they were too busy to catch up? I didn’t know, because I hadn’t called them.

Text messages are obscure and impersonal, and often lead to confusion or misunderstandings. At best, they are a means to an end. The point was iterated to me during a period of non-contact with an ex-girlfriend. We could still text each other to sort out practical matters, but we didn’t have to talk to or see each other. It was as if we hadn’t really communicated.

A text message may have its time and place, but when it is the only option—or at least the only cheap option, it falls far short of the social mark, and worse, can lead to social stagnation and miscommunications in our relationships with others. If 20 bucks gets us four or five 3-minute phone calls, we quickly revert to the cheaper option, the text. Humour or sarcasm is lost, we misconstrue our options, assume the worst, or opt out on previous commitments all too easily. We also spend much of our precious time clouting numbers on a tiny keypad giving ourselves RSI in our thumb joints and staring at a tiny screen, while otherwise we might be yakking to a flattie or engaging in whatever else is going on around us.

In New Zealand, as the landline becomes less ubiquitous, and our lifestyles less static, we revert to trashed radiofrequencies to communicate.

The unreliable airwaves used to send texts are free for Telecom and Vodafone, yet we still pay to use them. The Aussie profiteers have, unwittingly, caused Aussies to use the socially active option, the more expensive, but reliable airwaves, to talk as well as text. Perhaps we should think about doing the same.

So, if you can, ring your mates! That way if they’re too busy to meet up, at least you’ve made an audible connection, and you’re actively engaging in verbal communication, thereby reinforcing and progressing your relationship with that person. You’ll briefly catch up on the phone, maybe have a laugh, and hang up having made a personal connection. You’ll feel better for having made the effort. You may be more likely to call someone else and see what they’re up to. Your social flow will be maintained, and enhanced. You’ll feel connected and more likely to remain positive. Humans are social animals. We should talk to each other.

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