Timing is everything with texts
OUT FOR A WALK
I’ve never really liked text messaging as a form of communication. My thumbs are clumsy, and no amount of stretching exercises is going to change that. Spelling even one or two words correctly can be a challenge, even when my smartphone is trying to “assist” me with auto-correct.
Texting is also impersonal and reductive, making it difficult to express nuanced emotions or complicated concepts without having to resort to silly emoji faces. In some ways, it feels like our civilization has gone back to the days of etching crude drawings onto cave walls. Except, now, we have high-tech devices to sketch the pictures for us.
Also, as thousands of people found out last week, text message delivery is not always as instant as you might expect. According to the New York Times, over 160,000 people received “eerie” texts in the middle of the night on Nov. 7. What made them eerie? The texts had actually been sent nine months earlier, on Valentine’s Day, but they had yet to arrive at their destinations.
Cell phone companies had a hard time explaining this anomaly at first, but it turns out a company no one’s ever heard of, Syniverse, had a malfunctioning server that held on to thousands of undelivered messages for months before being rebooted last Thursday. As a result, thousands of people got their Happy Valentine’s Day wishes way late this year.
As you might expect, this created quite a bit of confusion and some awkward exchanges between friends, lovers and family members. Some got affectionate messages from people they had broken up with, and others were bewildered by messages that made no sense out of the context in which they were sent.
A few of the long-delayed messages were downright sad. One woman who spoke to the Times got a message from her husband, who is stationed overseas as a member of the U.S. Navy. The text said he was “on my way home,” even though she didn’t expect him until later in the month. She immediately got out of bed and started cleaning her house in anticipation of her husband arriving soon. Imagine the disappointment of learning that it was all a “glitch.”
It turns out my sister-in-law Ann was one of the thousands who received a couple of these mystery messages. She didn’t know about the mishap until I happened to tell her about it, but she chose to continue believing there was a special reason she got the messages when she did, as they referenced her mother-inlaw, who passed away in February. Good for her for seeing something meaningful amid the techno-chaos.
The whole episode makes me glad I rely more on traditional forms of communication — like verbal conversations — than I do on texts.