Lost In Translation: The Complicated World Of Texting
I am terrible at hellos. Even with my friends, I sometimes hesitate to say hi out loud. It wouldn’t even be that embarrassing if they didn’t hear me, but I still usually give this kind of weird big-eyed, teeth-gritting smile. I have a love-hate relationship with those ridiculous conversations, analyzing these interactions with acquaintances, thinking, “I said hi, but do they even remember me? Now I seem creepy” or “I just should’ve said hi, now I seem rude, but we, like, barely made eye contact.” I often think that texting or messaging exacerbates these pretty stupid concerns. Even beyond the instances of texting or not texting someone you want to hook up with based on the composite wisdom of friends with more text game, how does this unnecessary stress surrounding communication translate when it gets virtual? Am I just overanalyzing basic human interaction? Definitely, but I think there are layers to what makes me feel bewildered about messaging. Hopefully writing this different, longer kind of text can help me sort some of it out, lol. (Or should I have said Haha?)
I usually talk too much. No time or place is safe: I do it in class, at practice, occasionally to some poor friend of a friend I meet at the lunch table. I have won “Most Talkative” at multiple summer programs, which is not even an award or compliment but, rather, a description of a personality trait generally considered irritating. Case in point, I ramble.
Strangely, I rarely start conversations online. I tend to use texting just to make plans. I also completely forget to respond sometimes. I space out a lot in person, but my virtual failures to say “hey” are more acute. Aside from not wanting to say something stupid or come off as desperate, or subtly adhering to gender norms by not texting someone I may be interested in, I wonder why it does not occur to me to talk to people over text. I know I should message my friends and family from home, even though we are all busy. I usually only occasionally say, “Oh, I saw this and thought of you.” My parents get annoyed when I point-blank ask for something instead of beginning with a “Hi” and “Miss you,” which I assume are implied but which I would say out loud if I were talking to them in person. Luckily, I can get a fuller picture of “How are you?” with FaceTime or Snapchat. The obvious insufficiencies of reading rather than seeing or hearing should and could simply be fixed by me getting over myself and my being dramatically “sooo busy” and making a phone call. However, I cannot really FaceTime with people I do not know very well.
And that is where “hey” comes in. No three letters, seriously not even “God,” can be so polarizing depending on who it comes from, when and why. I recently found an old Facebook chat about a Facebook chat from my junior year of high school that went like this: “i think i may have lead him on” “no!!! he probably just thought you were being nice” “ya well he fb IMed me hey.” “Hey” can either be an “I remember you exist,” “I want you,” “I am so bored,” “I am drunk,” or an annoyingly circuitous way to “Let’s hang out.” I need to remember that having these conversations is not a chore. Saying hi is a perfectly innocuous, friendly, normal thing to do. I think that part of what stresses me out is that when I am usually inevitably asked, “What’s up?” I never really feel like anything interesting is. In person, I would still talk about English class or complain about the printer jamming, which is not a great alternative to “nothing much, you?” In allowing for this articulacy, messaging should be a relief. I can eliminate the extraneous, ignorant “likes” and “literally”s I say, often enough that I am unaware of them. The shrillness that gets in my voice when I get heated is absent. I am finally chill, articulate, even aloof, relative to my usual rants. But then the problem of being dull arises. Even though I kind of hate how much, how fast and how loudly I talk, I still prefer it to the shy version of myself that I sometimes offer in person and almost always do over text. I want to maintain that image of a hey-worthy impression but with a few “likes” and “literally”s thrown in.
If I can recognize that the technological messenger is not the real version of me or of the person who I am speaking to, why do I still care? Why do I feel nervously flattered, unresponsively neglected or gratified? It is sad and funny how we can read into everything, or nothing, too much. “Hey” does just mean “hi,” even if it has two y’s, and I guess it is really easy to forget that. Messaging can make us fill what could be simple and direct with implications because of the faceless contact, the spacing of time or the projection of some inflection onto another person’s statement. What may be most contradictorily debilitating or liberating is that texting allows us to say exactly what we want to. I also think that my tendency to overthink a message to some acquaintance, or even an email to my professor, is partially related to the fact that I want my writing to be perfect as my only means of streamlining my voice aside from sentences that wind like this one does. Part of what becomes irksome about messages is that the records of what words may have been too cold, too entreating or generally too awkward are retrievable. I don’t choose to re-read chats, but you have a simple conversation that can be followed by the, “What did they say? Let me read it,” from a friend. Thank god for Delete and Archive.
I am not yearning for calling cards, love letters and taking a carriage to a friend’s house here. It is good that the Internet or your service provider facilitate communication. I have had natural, satisfying, flirty conversations over text, while I might make terrible small talk in real life. I have exchanged cathartic, essay-long messages where I almost feel like I am talking to my friend all the way in Miami in person. I appreciate GroupMe likes. I just think that it is often hard to divorce the awareness of how casual and distant messages are from the way you normally communicate, due to the anxiety induced by both receiving attention and the opportunity to offer a readable impression of yourself. I may not be of passing significance to you just because I momentarily crossed your mind with a “hey.” If I ever boldly just say “hey” online, I may be too temporarily shy for a “What’s up” in person. And even after all this absurd angst surrounding a little ping or a vibration in my pocket and bunches of letters I will likely forget by next week, I am still kind of scared no one will message me after this article. Lol.