I’m not the world’s biggest fan of text messaging. To me it’s a tool. It’s a way of arranging to meet, or letting someone know you’ll be late. Or sending a pithy, clever insult. And it’s brilliant for that. Phoning someone to say something that can be taken care of in a maximum of two exchanges of 160 characters isn’t necessary. The text message takes care of it, quickly and efficiently.
However, if your conversation requires more than that, then it’s a bane. Having to try to orchestrate a complicated dialogue in minimal chunks is infuriating, and even more so because to do it you’re holding a device capable of telephoning someone. So telephone someone.
Perhaps an even larger issue with the text message is the apparent requirement to reply instantly. I don’t want to turn into some ghastly confused broadsheet columnist (wait, yes I do, that’s exactly the job I want – well, let’s assume I don’t want the ghastly part) who complains about how modern technology is driving us apart, because is it bollocks. It’s uniting us in incredible ways. But I do take issue with the immediacy of communication it’s engendered. If you need to get hold of me immediately, call me. The loud ringing sound will get my attention, and if I answer you’ll get my responses right away. If I don’t answer, you can assume I’m not able to, or don’t want to. For some reason we accept that an email may take a few hours to be responded to. But a text message, perhaps because of its relative informality, combined with its arriving on a device that follows us around (which of course is increasingly the case for email too), seems to come with a weight of responsibility. And one that arrives unsolicited. I don’t like that. While I find myself unable to remember how existence worked when phones were tied to the walls (despite living the first 20 years of my life in such a state – what did we do when we were going to be late for stuff?), I do remember that we weren’t commanded to instantly reply to everyone.
(Aside: I wonder if teenagers still write letters to each other. I was in my prime letter-writing teenage years in 93 to 96, with email not arriving for most of us until 97. If you wanted to let a girl know you fancied her, and clearly speaking to her about it wasn’t an option, you picked up pen and paper. Is this all done by email now? I presume so. I am one hundred years old.)
I’m not always going to reply to your text message immediately. Sometimes I might, because I’m there and free and may as well. But sometimes I’ll reply later that day when I get around to it. As with an email. Or returning a call. I’m not willing to let the text obligation rule me. I think that’s reasonable.
But that’s not why I gathered us all here this evening. This is to discuss the tyranny and dangers of the Text Message x. Or the Text Message Kiss. I’ve never put a little ‘x’ at the end of my texts to anyone. And I never will.
The x, for anyone unfamiliar with this code, is the kiss. But we all know that, because we’d XxXxX at the bottom of our letters, wouldn’t we fellow elderly people? I’m absolutely sure that for the crazy-in-love 15 year old, the number of xs at the end of a text is as important and love-defining as the number of Xs at the end of a letter. “He only put three Xs! Why does he hate me?!” And teenagers are welcome to this, because it’s beautiful. But for adults there seems to have become this habit of putting an x at the end of every text sent to a friend or loved one.
Now, let me be more than absolutely clear here. I object in no way to receiving a text with an x at the end. I even rather like it. It’s affectionate, cute. Although most the time I don’t consciously acknowledge them, as it happens. I read words, consider if I need to reply, move on. But sometimes I’ll spot it there and it can only be positive. The matter is, I shall never send one. And I suggest you adopt the same rule for reasons of safety.
The first reason is about semiotics. That x, if someone becomes used to it, can become important. And you’re dealing with a message that’s likely to be kept to 160 characters, rather than subject the receiver to five minutes of excruciating “de-deh-de-deh” noises as it arrives in chunks and painstakingly pieces itself back together. Which means there will come a message where you don’t have room for that x, no matter how much you bastardise the language down to a series of grunted consonant sounds and vulgar singular vowels. And then the x is missing, left out, gone for some reason. What reason? wonders the receiver. “Does she hate me now? Did I do something wrong? Should I be reading this entire text as being written in fury?” “Does he want to break up with me? Is it over? Should I cry now?”
The second is habit. A friend of mine told me a fantastic story recently where she sent a text message to her MA supervisor, which she habitually finished with a little x. A little kiss.
“Hello important MA supervisor. Here is some grown up information for my serious degree. Smah!”
And then she curled up on the floor and died.
The x, the kiss, is far more trouble than it’s worth. And it’s never a problem so long as no precedent is set. If there’s no expectation of that single letter, no one’s going to give a toss if it’s absent at the end of a message about remembering to pick up milk on the way home. But once it’s been established, it being missing is suddenly an issue. Which is silly. So I’ll not. I hope you don’t mind. x