To text or to call? Susan Cain, author of best-selling Quiet, focuses on a new angle: texting may simply be a more comfortable form of communication, especially for introverts.
Some people bemoan the rise of texting – we’re disconnected, we’ve lost the ability to interact with people, etc. – while other praise texting's flexibility. Over the past couple of years, though, the issue has stagnated. Texting is here to stay, so what more is there to talk about? But understanding that texting – and, in a larger sense, all instant messaging and email – is not motivated entirely by either laziness or efficiency could be key to leveraging it to its full potential. Beyond serving as a means of “at your convenience” communication, texting allows a more comfortable style of conversation for some: namely, introverts.
Colloquially, we now associate introversion with shyness and extraversion with sociability. But Carl Jung, the originator of the terms, put them forth as a way to describe how we orient ourselves. Extraverts orient themselves to the outer world, gaining energy from social events; introverts orient inwards, needing to recharge after a day of interaction. While introversion is not necessarily linked to shy or antisocial behavior, it can result in behaviors that are interpreted as such. For example, preferring texting to calling.
Susan Cain introduces this idea in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain’s work instantly rose to popularity in 2012, earning multiple accolades and leading to a “record-smashing” TED talk.
Having spent seven years researching and writing about introversion, Cain added an interesting point to her extended manifesto:
“Texting is popular because in an overly extroverted society, everyone craves asynchronous, non-F2F [face-to-face] communication.”
Cain’s theory about F2F communication patterns being influenced by stable personality factors – rather than, say, today’s obsession with efficiency – is backed by a 2007 study. The study notes that the “extended real time continuity of phone calls, the need for small talk, and the ritualized closing” can drive people to avoid this type of interaction. This is easily understood in the context of introversion: phone calls can be draining. Texting, on the other hand, allows one to control one’s “presentation of self” because you can think as much as you’d like before responding, something Cain links to introversion.
This is something that I, an introvert myself, have always known intuitively. It’s part of the appeal behind online ordering and the “live chat” customer service options versus calling. Even Snapchat is great mostly because it allows me to engage with friends without the pressure to keep engaging for an indeterminate amount of time, which one might expect with calling or Skyping. This is not to say that I, or other introverts, don’t enjoy F2F interaction. Rather, sometimes writing is simply more comfortable.
Cain has expanded on her argument in interviews:
“I think part of the reason texting is so popular is that it's a way of to connect with people without having to be on. It’s asynchronous communication, you’re not looking at the person at the time, and we all crave that a little bit.”
The appeal of asynchronosity goes back to the issue of self-presentation. Cain dedicates a whole chapter of her book to the phenomenon whereby, in F2F interaction, introverts devote a lot of energy to become pseudo-extraverts to succeed in their chosen field. Some enjoy it, others not so much. The real problem, Cain explains, arises when self-monitoring becomes self-negation. Texting, on the other hand, can expedite clear and decisive conversations while also allowing introverts’ energy to be better spent elsewhere.
But who cares? If pseudo-extraversion gets the job done, why change anything? Importantly, Cain highlights Adam Grant’s research on effective leadership in the context of the intro-extraversion paradigm. Grant, a Wharton management professor, found that while extraverted leaders outperformed their introverted counterparts when followers were passive, the opposite was true with a proactive group. Good leadership thus depends not only on one’s ability to exert authority, but also one’s ability to implement available resources to best effect – whether that means your workers’ creativity or your use of texting to reserve energy for important meetings.
Regardless of the naysayers, texting is irrevocably on the rise – even in spaces where you wouldn’t expect it. Texting is being used to help students participate in class, and the enterprise mobile messaging market brings everything from instant messaging to social media to the workplace in the face of a mobile revolution.
In a country that cherishes Cain’s so-called “Extrovert Ideal,” the “omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight,” the above insights could go a long way. From personal to professional, the acceptance of instant messaging as a valid form of communication could boost not only efficiency but also happiness. Calling of course will never be completely replaced, and nor should it be; certain conversations need to be held in person. But the portrayal of texting as a somehow inferior form of interaction certainly isn’t helping anyone anymore.
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