Inconveniences from texting


“Trigger thumb” in the making?

Over the past decade, monthly texts have increased 7,700 percent. Worldwide we send about 19 billion of them a day. Americans send about two for every voice call they place. People between 18 and 25 send 133 a week. Texting accounts for about a third of the time Millennials spend on their phones.(1)

Only in retrospect is it not surprising that text messages would overtake voice calls. Texting lets you “converse” without being overheard. You can dispense with pleasantries and get to the point. You can reply at your convenience. You can end or pause by falling silent, with no need for “kindest regards,” “yours truly,” or “no, you hang up first.” 

In short, texting is great. Except when it isn’t.

Evil twins

Just as no one foresaw the rapid rise of the text message, no one foresaw the host of problems it would bring. 

Inconceivable as it is, and despite the terrifying toll on human lives, there are still plenty of dopes who text while driving.

More on the amusing side is drunk-texting, which, I suppose, you could call drunk-dialing’s evil twin. And then there’s sleep-texting, a more innocent, often entertaining twin. (I guess that makes them triplets.) Unlike its evil sibs, sleep-texts are usually gibberish, which is a good thing, considering they leave a digital record. Sleep-texting is most prevalent among adolescents and college students, possibly due to their more erratic sleep schedules.

Text neck, trigger thumb, and other pains

Excessive texting correlates with and likely causes physical problems. The Washington Post reports an epidemic of “text neck.” The American Optometric Association warns of digital eye strain. And Rush University Medical Center describes “trigger thumb,” which it defines as …

… the constriction of a flexor tendon in the thumb, may result from repetitive gripping motions such as texting or holding a smartphone. Its symptoms include painful popping or snapping when the thumb bends and straightens; sometimes the thumb even becomes locked in a curled position … 

… Elbows can suffer as well if you spend too much time holding a phone to your ear, resting your elbow on a desk, or keeping your arm bent at an acute angle to use a computer mouse. These positions can contribute to cubital tunnel syndrome, or increased tension in the tunnel through which the ulnar nerve passes in the elbow.

“Fortunately,” Rush reassures us, “many of these conditions are highly treatable.”

Texting certainly risks miscommunication, which can be harmful to relationships, something the financial services industry should note when crafting automatic messages and training help-chat personnel. Kim Schneiderman L.C.S.W., M.S.W warns in Psychology Today that “… texting is not the way to negotiate a relationship.”

… UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian found that 58 percent of communication is through body language, 35 percent through vocal tone, pitch, and emphasis, and a mere 7 percent through content of the message. We all know that good communication is the cornerstone of relationship. So why attempt to resolve a disagreement using only 7 percent of your full expressive potential? … And that’s a generous 7 percent. Consider all the annoying slips of finger that can interfere with clear communication. When the difference between “mad,” “sad,” “bad,” and “glad” is an errant thumb, wobbly finger gymnastics can be costly and confusing.

At least to a point, emoticons have evolved to compensate for the body-language gap. A winky-face can work wonders for ensuring that humor or irony isn’t lost on a message recipient.

It’s important to beware alarmists who cry out unsupported warnings with every technological advance. Sitting too close to the TV didn’t ruin our eyes; radio, then TV, then video games neither destroyed our minds nor rendered reading obsolete; and home video and, later, streaming were not harbingers of movie theaters’ doom. Likewise, I suspect many if not most of the apocalyptic warnings about texting can be safely ignored. 

Nor is it always bad when technology changes how we do things. I don’t see anyone complaining about no longer having to lug a bushel of clothes and a washboard to the riverbank. To be sure, pedants rue abbreviations like for you and btw for by the way, fearing that humans will forget how to spell and punctuate. Their concerns overlook that fact that rules do not dictate usage; usage evolves while rules scurry to catch up. Moreover, no one suffered severe injury when catalog and dialog began appearing without an appended –gue.

If the texting tide ever turns, it will not be by design. If and when, it will turn only because capricious human tastes will have once again taken us by surprise. Meanwhile, there’s no sense in beating one’s head against the wall. Those of us who make our living in a digital world are best served by watching the trends, doing our best not just to stay abreast of them but to capitalize on them, and remaining alert to pitfalls so as not to fall into or exacerbate them.


(1) (For these and other statistics about texting, see Irene Rufferty’s article in Medium“50 Texting Statistics That Can Quench Everyone’s Curiosity, Even Mine.”)


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