What does it mean when you return a phone call with a text message?

Does texting betray a fear of intimacy?

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I believe in “Medium Fidelity,” which means that I try to return all correspondence at the level it was sent or higher. Whenever possible I remain faithful to the means by which I receive a communication because as Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.

The sundry ways in which human beings interact in the 21st century can be ranked hierarchically according to their level of intimacy. Below are what I believe are the levels of communication between two human beings from most intimate to least intimate:

1. Sexual intercourse: when blood is coursing rapidly through intertwined mounds of flesh and one body has entered another, this act of intimacy is able to convey so much more information than spoken language. Lovemaking is a somatic poem, a dynamic sculpture, clouds dancing and breathing through each other. And sometimes it can even be entertaining, amusing, uplifting, enlightening and fun. This most intimate of primal encounters should command at least 10% of your conscious attention (unless, of course, you are with Bill Cosby.) Wildly intimate.

2. Surgery: most people choose to be heavily anesthetized during surgery, so this sort of intimacy is rather one-sided (see Bill Cosby), but inserting fingers and medical instruments inside of another human being is often an extremely personal gesture. Extremely intimate.

3. Catheterizing someone or administering a colonic: usually both of these sections of the human anatomy are heavily concealed beneath trousers and undergarments. When another human is fiddling with them there can be even more shame than that of sexual intercourse. Being exposed and vulnerable in such a manner can cause unexpected emotions. Very intimate.

4. Having a cat or dog fall asleep on your neck: anyone who has experienced this will attest to the fact that this is a great expression of trust and love. For both of you. Very intimate.

5. Telepathy: although currently scientifically unverifiable, many people believe that they can share thoughts with other people without using spoken language. Being mentally connected to another human being and aware of his or her thoughts would be extremely intimate as little could remain hidden. On the other hand, when only one of the parties believes in such type of communication, that probably means that he is delusional, codependent, or both. Possibly very intimate, but unlikely.

6. In Real Life (IRL) face-to-face interactions: looking into another person’s eyes while speaking is quite an intimate experience. Your subconscious is picking up pheromones, sweat, and other odors along with non-verbal cues, tiny expressions of pain, comfort, discomfort, joy, sarcasm, love, irony — there is literally a panoply of visual, aural, and olfactory information transmitted — a smorgasbord of cues, indicators, and sensations. Very intimate.

7. Facetime or Skyping: here the pheromones and other olfactory cues are lost, three dimensions are compressed into two dimensions, but visual cues and auditory inflections remain perceptible. This is just slightly less intimate than being face-to-face with someone. Fairly intimate.

8. Telephone calls: now non-verbal cues have been removed. However, heightened emotions are still communicable and various shades of empathy are still possible. Moderately intimate.

9. Sign language: for those who cannot hear, sign language is an excellent way for signifying ideas, thoughts and emotions. Facial expressions, movements and hand gestures convey a wide range of information and olfactory sensations help also. Moderately intimate.

10. Faxes: like books, faxes can convey much information symbolized in words formed by alphabetic letters and then interpreted by the receiver. When words are used for poetry they are able to connote diverse nuances, flavors and rhythms. In business letters they are able to convey precise legally binding information. The fax machine replaced the ancient tradition of letter writing, but there was still the ability to sign your name vivaciously or studiously and convey limited tones. Not terribly intimate.

11. Emails: similar to faxes, but due to their widespread use it appears that people put a lot less time and effort into writing emails as they do into writing formal letters. Not much care goes into writing the vast majority of emails and most of them are just lifeless black words and white screen. Not terribly intimate.

12. Hieroglyphics: this form of communication used symbols to represent the daily lives of people in ancient Egypt. We do not know the precise lexicon for these images so we can only guess what they mean. Not intimate.

13. Cave paintings: this form of communication also used symbols to represent the daily lives of neanderthal people in Europe. We do not know the precise lexicon for these images so it remains difficult to translate into our modern language(s). Not intimate.

15. Text messages: although effective for conveying real time information such as “running late” or “in a meeting will call you later,” the limited symbols and emoticons employed in text messages are unable to convey any of the nuances of the above forms of communication. Completely devoid of intimacy.

15. Smoke Signals: Native Americans employed this remedial form of visual communication to vaguely signal danger to others over long distances. Completely devoid of intimacy.

As you can see by the above list, when the history books are sealed, text messaging will fall somewhere between cave paintings and smoke signals in terms of intimately communicating information. And like all organized religions to which people are indoctrinated, the bad certainly outweighs the good. The downside of trying to communicate anything of importance by texting far outweighs the upside as misinterpretations are rife.

In particular, temporal lapses in putative text conversations often lead to subtexting, which is when your mind adds telepathic inferences while you are being “ghosted.” For example, in response to a non-response, your mind might query, “Why did he abruptly stop texting: does he (fill in the blank) disapprove of something I wrote? hate me? is laughing his ass off and convulsing so hard that he is unable to text back “lmao”? is he busy? did his boss just walk in? did he just orgasm? was he hit by a train? distracted? texting with mettle more fine?” Etc.

All in all, humanity will be spared infinite disorder and dysfunctionality when texting is filed into the dustbin of history along with 8-track tapes and smoke signals. And, like cats, we are able to hone our telepathic abilities.

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