I hate communicating by text messages. As a ten-finger typist for the past half century, I am quite handicapped when using a touchscreen mobile device that has the user interface model of someone who only has the use of two thumbs. My two thumbs know how to hit a space bar on the keyboards used with desktop computers. The space bar is large for a reason: opposable thumbs evolved for gripping and inexact movement needs. On the other hand, we have an index finger on each hand that was meant to point, poke, and touch gently. Therefore, when I must text on a mobile device, I am restricted to the index finger on my dominant hand.
No surprise: I prefer to communicate by email. I use italics, bold, and underline features for another layer of communication. My thoughts come in paragraphs. I can type paragraphs in a flash.
Yet many of the people I love (including some who are my age) have made the shift to texting—even if they text with only the index finger of their dominant hand. They do not have and never have had a career in writing, so perhaps the urge to type with ten coordinated fingers isn’t strong for them. They can stay in touch with friends by poking at a few characters on a screen, usually with brief questions and briefer answers: “Did you make it home okay?” “no problem, easy drive.” End of personal connection.
For at least a couple of years, I resisted staying in touch with my youngest child by text messaging. I’d get a text message and answer with an email message that I knew they might not read for days. And then they would not respond, even if I asked a direct question. I asked for a compromise: We’d send text messages sometimes and email messages other times. The email promise didn’t last long.
At one of my sisters’ encouragement, I bought a tablet. I really do want to stay in touch in a meaningful way with those I love. The claim was that there is a large enough on-screen keyboard to be usable with more than an index finger or two. (Discovery: not without a high rate of mistyped characters.)
My moment of embracing texting came this week. Two people whom I love dearly are in that very large text-message-or-no-message demographic. Until this year, we were able to get together every month or so. But this year we’ve been unable to spend that time together. Because I love them so much, I now stay in touch—sometimes by cell phone and the index finger of my dominant hand—to let them know I love them, though the “conversations” are generally no more than a few words from each of us. Their lives are more complicated than mine, and their problems more substantial. They have few places they can go for a private phone call. This past week was difficult for each of them. So, texting back and forth—sometimes paragraphs at a time—made my heart glad. As I thought about this a few days ago, I realized that, especially when the subject of a conversation is serious and the need to feel connected is strong, being able to text with someone you love is a precious privilege.