Texting is the worst way to communicate. There, I’ve said it.

I think I’m suitably qualified to talk about this: I grew up in the country, where you had to text or learn to interpret the noises of local farm animals (admittedly better conversation partners than a lot of the people you meet here in Oxford). What’s more, many of my friends have now moved on from university, so for the last nine months I’ve found myself conducting much of my social life through my phone. Recently, it’s felt like the last decade of texting has all blurred together into a flurry of receiving, replying, and waiting, slowly being driven mad by HOW TERRIBLE THIS FORM OF COMMUNICATION IS. 

Having said that, there is a lot to be said for the benefits of modern-day texting. It’s convenient, low-commitment, and surprisingly fun. You don’t need to immediately reply, emojis are cute, and you have the time you need to present a far wittier and more interesting version of your normal self. We’re all busy, stressed people, and the more intimate forms of smartphone communication require energy, concentration, and a solid block of time. When one is invariably lacking in any of these, it then becomes so much easier to default to a quick text, rather than the more punishing alternative – a half-hearted call/FaceTime where both parties mindlessly scroll in the background, occasionally murmuring something trite. 

But texting is difficult, frustrating and often unwittingly cruel. The distance that text creates – you see a screen, not a person – means that the honesty, compassion and courtesy you’d receive in person disappears online. We all have the story of the friend who missed booking the important play/flight/concert because they read the text but didn’t reply for three days (if not, then you are that friend). Nowhere is this problem more clearly illustrated than in dating. When we reject someone in person, their presence makes us feel obligated to be honest with them, but over text it’s all too easy to ghost them, hoping that they’ll get the hint. We’ve all done it, and had it done to us, but it’s neither kind nor respectful, and it’s a shame that texting has normalised it. That’s without getting into accidental ghosting, a different yet equally frustrating can of worms. The softer variations also sting in their own way: I’d argue that being houseplanted (receiving enough texts to keep plodding on, but not enough to have a good chat) is far worse, simultaneously raising your hopes of conversation while grinding down your self-respect. Worst of all is the dreaded singular emoji reaction: do you send another message, or take the conversation as over? As cruel as ghosting can be, at least it’s definite. 

The other big issue with texting is how difficult it can be to read tone and intention. We all use bodily cues to inform social context, and texting is wholesale stripped of these; for those of us of a neurodivergent persuasion, it can be even harder (and more exhausting) for us to communicate by text, feeling like we’re navigating in the dark without a flashlight. Sometimes texting feels like it has its own social etiquette, where you’re compelled to match the energy of how the other person texts, or risk putting them off. When you play it too cool, you risk coming off as bored; too keen, you come across as overwhelming… For such a simple form of communication, why is it so unnecessarily deep? 

Some people get around this by finding a halfway house through voice notes, mixing the intimacy of a phone call with the convenience of texting, while those of us who are still twelve at heart use Snapchat for a more interactive experience, but many still struggle onwards. In the spirit of a late New Year’s Resolution, I propose that we all try to be a bit kinder and more open when we text, spurning subtext and waiting three hours before replying in favour of being honest, authentic and present with the other person. I think it’d make life a whole lot easier.