Text messaging can confuse the message

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s not uncommon to see couples expressing affection for one another. But instead of giving Valentine’s cards or making calls, they might just exchange texts and Twitter posts.

The Census Bureau’s annual Statistical Abstract of the United States found in a survey of cell phone companies that the number of text messages sent nationwide increased from 18.7 billion in 2006 to 110.4 billion in 2008. At the same time, it found phone call times have decreased from an average of 3.03 minutes in 2006 to 2.27 minutes in 2008.

This nationwide trend is also seen locally. Scott Preston, U.S. Cellular area sales manager for Champaign, Bloomington, Decatur and Springfield, said call time is dropping; the length of phone calls was about three minutes in 2004 and a little over two minutes in 2008.

Young adults are also taking advantage of social networking services such as Twitter or Facebook on phones, which Preston called another possible reason for the drop in call time.

Kelly Ferry, freshman in LAS, said she talks on the phone about five minutes per day, but she texts off and on probably more than ten hours a day altogether.

But Scott Poole, professor of communication at the University, said the effects of less talking and more texting are yet to be seen.

“It’s not real clear that texting would hinder relationships,” he said.

Poole said that while texts contain less content than phone calls, they allow people to keep in touch more easily.

“Studies show that when people first start using a medium (such as texting), you lost content, since they cannot convey emotions,” he said. “When people get used to it, they add emotion.”

Poole said people find ways to make texting personal by using code words, or words that carry special meaning for them.

However, some experts have said texting and constant dependence on technology shortens attention span.

Poole said a couple in a restaurant might be texting other people. This distracts them from each other, which could possibly weaken the relationship.

Rachel Ganzer, sophomore in LAS, said she prefers texting to phone calls in her romantic relationships.

“I know it (texting) kind of makes it easier because people are more brave, since you can think about what you are going to say.”

She said she sends about 100 texts and talks about 30 minutes on the phone per day, mostly with family or friends far away.

Ganzer said that texting has the benefits of convenience, but it has drawbacks because sometimes meaning gets lost in translation.

Poole said technology in relationships could also make arguments worse if the couple has frequent fights. He said instant messaging can be a problem because when in short messages, people may misinterpret words, which cases fights to escalate.

Video communication can also cause misinterpretation, Poole said. Because the technology still is not perfect, people might miss cues.

Poole said he does not feel constant communication is unhealthy. People learn to regulate, based on their different levels of need for interaction.

“The assumption is that technology is a force that changes us,” he said. “The truth is, it depends how people use and adapt to it.”