For much of my dad’s adult life he had a large malignant tumor on his thyroid. There’s not a lot of extra space in there, so it pressed against one vocal cord, paralyzing it. The result was that the other vocal cord had to work harder because they no longer met in the middle for the good times that are speech. He was hoarse. He was perfectly understandable and could carry on normal conversations, but couldn’t talk loud, couldn’t yell, and people often would interrupt with, “What?” after the first few words of any sentence he started. That many of them did that out of habit no matter who was doing the speaking and whether they could hear it or not didn’t make it any better. As he said, so much of what we say is not worth repeating and sounds a little silly when said again: What had been a throw-away comment is now the answer to a question and it’s simply not sturdy enough to withstand that sort of scrutiny. But those little asides are the fragments that sift through our character and personality to complete the picture of who we are. They aren’t important in the moment, but over time they define us and there is nothing more important than that. He had no trouble talking or being understood, but he often had trouble being heard.
I imagine it’s sort of the same thing when living in a second language, when you can’t articulate exactly what you mean to say, and so you say nothing. Texting is a little like that. More often than not a text message is of no immediate importance. No one needs to read, “Looks like a car mag photoshoot somewhere ahead. A whole load of supercars driving by.” Or needs to send, “Homeless guy followed me off the bus and is begging me to let him comb my hair” and neither of those warrants a phone call. I hear complaints all the time from people who didn’t grow up with cell phones, much less with text messaging: No one needs to text. Kids these days [if I ever say “kids these days” or, even worse, “youngsters,” in a serious manner, please put me out of my misery] are spoiled. We didn’t need to be in 24-hour-a-day contact with anyone. They don’t know how to entertain themselves. How is it possible to send thousands of text messages a month? What’s wrong with calling?
Nothing is wrong with calling, but often those fragments that hold up in a quick text message collapse under the weight of a phone conversation. But those unnecessary pieces keep us in touch on a more intimate level. It’s an opportunity to be a part of each other’s lives even when separated geographically. I don’t need a text that says “Made it back okay, the roads weren’t bad” but I rest easier having that information, especially if I were to call and get no answer: Were the roads too icy? Is the phone dead? Is he waiting on the icy freeway in the dark for a tow truck? Or did she go to bed and leave her phone in the car?
Nope, not necessary, but these messages make us smile at a shared memory and help us be just a tiny part of what’s going on in that life at that moment. What’s wrong with that?