• Katherine Foronda

7 Subtle Dangers of Instant Messaging – On ALL platforms!

Before text messaging and social media existed, people communicated over long distances much less. Even when communication technologies advanced from handwritten letters to telegraphs and then to email, communication frequencies at those marks of advancement still don’t compare to how often we communicate now. Why is that a problem? First, let’s consider for a moment how fast this all happened.

Long-distance communication in the U.S: A brief history.

Since its early days, long-distance communication was done primarily by handwritten letters. It wasn’t until about 1851 that common folk could even afford to write letters (or were literate enough to). The telegraph was invented in 1861, but writing letters was more economically convenient for the lower classes. Telephones started becoming more commonplace in the early 1900s, but handwritten letters were still more affordable. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that something came along and nearly replaced handwriting to send messages long distance: the email. Since emailing became more common in the early 1970’s, our frequency of communication has increased dramatically. Then, invented in 1992, text messaging brought more rapid change. Only 27 years old, it took 15 years for text messaging to become more common than phone calls. In 2014, it was reported that people on average sent and received 32 messages per day. This amount has nearly tripled to 94 messages per day in 2017. In its very brief history, texting has greatly accelerated how often we communicate on a now daily basis.

Give that some thought. For about 200 years, we seldom communicated with others long distance­­—maybe only a few times per year. In the last 50 years, we’ve managed to make long-distance communication possible every day for most people. In the last 10 years, such back and forth flow of digital conversation has become so commonplace that it keeps us on our phones for hours every day, and the amount of time we dedicate to it continues to rise. For the first time in the evolution of mankind, we spend half of our free time on long-distance communication.

Here’s how it has affected us negatively:

1) Expectations get unrealistically higher, causing needless pain

If someone doesn’t respond to a message within 10 minutes, brows begin to furrow. Anxiety begins to kick in after an hour with no response. Unless the text was time-sensitive, there’s no need to stress over someone not being immediately available for nonurgent matters. Text communications can get so addicting that they cause unnecessary strife and tension in any relationship for those that expect constant attention.

2) Conversations become less meaningful and more dull.

When people communicated less, they lived more life, and thus had more to share between communications. When you don’t hear from someone for a month, they have a month’s worth of news to share with you. When mere minutes fly by between communication, you’re stuck in a loop of meaningless dialogue.

You spend more time communicating with little to talk about than you do creating memories that are worth talking about.

3) We’re distracted from introspection.

Constantly craving instantaneous dialogue with others can distract us from our problems or from personal growth. Give yourself time alone to reflect on what your circumstances have engrossed you in; learn more about yourself and others during your time of reflection.

4) We distract others.

Giving someone a reason to respond to their phone every 3-5 minutes for hours on end isn’t very considerate of their time, or yours. We’re all responsible for our own choices, but allowing for such distractions isn’t helpful either.

5) Ironically, it makes you less social.

Have you been at a social gathering and seen someone constantly on their phone the whole time? Isn’t it a curiosity that someone would compromise in-person interactions for a virtual one? It’s concerning that an addiction to instant messaging can make someone so much less interested in sharing a moment in real-time with others that the opportunity almost gets missed entirely. Interest has dropped so low that in 2018, for the first time, more teenagers reported a preference for text messaging over speaking with others in person. Adults have been preferring to text for at least 7 years.

6) It makes you less empathetically aware.

If most of your personal communication is by text, all you process are written linguistic patterns. When you interact with someone in person, you won’t be as adept at noticing emotional cues in things such as vocals, body language, countenance, etc. Such a reduction in emotional intelligence will make it harder for you to connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways. It will also make it more difficult for you to relate to them, which is truly unfortunate as we are a social species.

7) Being on your phone constantly distracts you from reality.

People get so distracted by engaging in their digital communications that they hardly take notice of the abundance of life that exists outside of their cellphones. It’s as though they’ve created a virtual reality on their mobile devices, and they seem to be more interested in being there than they are being here, present, in this physical and tangible reality.

Some tips on being less dependent on our mobile devices:

-Do not check your phone for messages when you first wake up.

What you do when you wake up sets the tone for the day. That behavior normalizes being on your phone during every waking hour. Start every day with activities that encourage self-care and being present, i.e. do light exercise, have a good breakfast, journal, meditate, etc.

-Formally end conversations on any instant messaging platform. Often enough, we pause digital conversations to do something that demands our attention in real life. These pauses draw us back to these open-ended conversations, making it difficult to do much else besides digitally communicating and carrying out our obligations. End conversations by saying things like, “by the way, I’m about to work. I’ll talk to you later!” or, “I have some errands to run, it was nice to catch up! Talk to you soon.” This way, there’s no subconscious obligation to respond to anyone when you do finish working or running your errands. The conversation ended, and a new one can start when either party wants it to.

-Make a serious effort to not respond to nonurgent texts when you are already busy doing something else. Too often, people will immediately respond to a text message while they’re studying, reading, spending time with someone, etc. (on average, within 90 seconds). If it’s not urgent, it can wait until you’re done with whatever it is that you are doing. Don’t miss out on real-life experiences because you couldn’t take your eyes off your phone. Nonurgent messages can wait while you enjoy living in the present moment.

We only recently went from communicating over long distances a few times a year on average too many times a day. Human beings are new to this level of ubiquitous and instantaneous communication. The rapid change has undoubtedly brought forth many unintended consequences. These may certainly be mitigated, however, with some moderation in digital communications for personal use. Let’s be more conscious of how much time we spend on our phones. Remember to draw up healthy boundaries for how often we communicate with each other now that smartphones have made things a bit more complicated. Let’s put effort into finding balance in this new age of instant communication.

Comment below your experiences with instant messaging, or any effects you’ve noticed that instant messaging has on society.