Here’s a confession that’s likely to disqualify me, in the eyes of some, from having anything relevant to say to anyone ever again: I have never sent a text message. (OMG. YGTBKM.) I’ve received them, like the regular missives from the auto repair shop: “Your car is very happy here.” (I don’t speak car myself, so I have to take their word for it.) But I’ve never sent a text message back.
I don’t even know how.
Not that I’m a Luddite or technophobe. I just need to be convinced there’s a good reason to adopt a new technology. It’s seductive to think that some new gadget will allow me to do things I couldn’t do before. But technology often brings unintended consequences; it doesn’t just make life more efficient, it makes it different.
A classic Far Side cartoon shows a family sitting in their living room, staring at a blank wall. The caption reads, “In the days before television.” The point? It’s not as if families used to sit around staring at walls, and then television just made the ritual more interesting. The technology transformed how families spend their time together. For the better? For worse? Both? Decide for yourself.
Historians have documented similar changes. Before central air conditioning, many families sat out on their front porches on hot evenings, conversing with neighbors who were out for a stroll. After central air, families tended to stay indoors, reducing face time with those same neighbors. Before microwave ovens, families were more likely to engage in food preparation and dinnertime rituals that gave them a sense of shared identity. But microwaveable food tends to make meals a more solitary affair.
I didn’t grow up with either air conditioning (we didn’t need it) or microwave ovens (they didn’t exist). But make no mistake: now that I enjoy both, I’d be hard pressed to give them up. Don’t hear me, therefore, as condemning technological change. Rather, I’m asking the Trojan Horse question: when we welcome some new advance into our lives, what else sneaks in with it?
So: text messaging. Is it just a newer way to have the conversations we were already having? For established relationships, yes, and some parents would say it’s about the only way to get their kids to talk to them. But has it also changed existing social rituals and expectations? Yes, that too. People are still making up the rules for dividing the world into Facebook friends, friends we text, and friends we call. And then there’s the matter of how and when you respond to text messages when you’re actually with other people. I confess that I still don’t understand how people can be in a room together, all “conversing” with someone who isn’t there, instead of with each other.
Oh, well. At some point, maybe, I’ll get with the program. Meanwhile, I’d like to make a request: can we please take “OMG” out of the texting lexicon?
Again, it’s a matter of the unintended consequences of change. Given the nature of the technology and its use, it seems perfectly natural that texting would reduce common phrases to abbreviations; it helps create a semblance of spontaneous conversation where speed and brevity are of the essence. But does shortening the exclamation, “Oh, my God!” to just three letters have the consequence of making us even less aware of what we’re saying?
Does anybody care?
Maybe that makes me sound like a religious fruitcake (and I know how most people feel about fruitcake). For the record, I’m not suggesting that God will send texters to hell for violating the third commandment. But I am concerned that our shifting social conventions may make us even more careless with our language, even when speaking of the holy.
Or how about an even more radical proposal? Let’s leave “OMG” in the lexicon, but mean it when we use it, much as Thomas did when he was finally convinced that the crucified Jesus was risen and real: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
When we type or see those three letters, let them remind us of the God we worship–not a God who punishes careless speech, but who wants us to say what we mean and mean what we say, to his glory, and our everlasting wonder.