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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Communication breakdown

Posted Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at 12:00 PM

I try not to look at my cell phone bill each month because it depresses me. It's not so much about the cost -- I've accepted that as much as a can.

It's more about looking at the number of text messages I send and receive during the month. While my number doesn't hold a candle to the average American teenager, I still feel I'm wasting a lot of time on empty, meaningless conversation.

What really frustrates me about the text is how much is lost in translation. While nothing replaces good ol' face-to-face interaction, I think we've managed to adequately convey our thoughts and emotions with telephone calls and even e-mails.

Both formats certainly have their limitations, but we manage to make them work.

Not so with text messages. The lack of vocal inflection and the need to keep it brief manages to be so misleading.

I cannot tell you how many times my wife has sent me a "How's work going today?" text, and I've replied with "OK."

Inevitably, that leads to, "What do you mean, OK? Is that good OK or bad OK?"


I suppose that OK just means OK. As in "acceptable" ... "I'm getting by" ... "lukewarm" ... "I'll survive" ... "I've seen better; I've seen worse" ... or even "Really busy and I'm trying to reply with just two letters."

I hope none of this comes off as a slam on my wife, though. It's not her fault. When I type "OK," I hear the inflection in my mind. If I hear it in a kind of light-hearted way, it means, "This is not too bad of a day. It's going pretty well."

If I say it in an exasperated tone, the meaning is more like "Things could be a lot better, but I suppose today won't kill me."

And those are two very different sentiments.

Perhaps even more troubling, though, is when the medium of text message causes a failure of humor. I won't abide a good joke going to waste.

I saw a piece on SportsCenter that said 49-year-old Rockies pitcher Jamie Moyer has pitched in 50(!) MLB ballparks in his quarter century on the mound. I had to send something to Eric because we both love baseball and love a good joke.

Moyer has pitched in 50 MLB parks -- including Ebbetts Field. Target Field (is the) only current stadium he hasn't pitched in.

Much to my surprise, the response came in as:

No way Ebbetts. Closed in 1958.

(sigh again)

Unlike the Baseball Encyclopedia who inhabits the next desk over, I did not know it was 1958. However, I knew Ebbetts closed when the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and I also knew that was a long time ago.

Part of the problem was that I mixed facetiousness (Ebbetts Field) with fact (Target Field), but the bigger problem is the text message as a form of communication.

Had I made that comment with both of us sitting here in the office, it would have yielded a hearty chuckle, an amused "yeah" or perhaps some equally witty barb from Eric about "Satchel" Moyer. (Another joke you need to be a baseball fan to appreciate.)

Instead, he thought I'd gotten some bad info from ESPN (which is not unheard of) and was passing it along as fact. I hate a funny comment gone awry.

What am I going to do about this? Nothing, most likely. Texting is a habit and like most habits it's diffi---

Sorry, I gotta go. My phone is blowin' up.

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Jared Jernagan
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Jared Jernagan is a 2003 graduate of Wabash College and has been in journalism since 2005.
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