Wt Msg R U Snding? The Pros and Cons of Texting
Do you give texting a second thought? Recently, discussions have surfaced in the news about some of the problems associated with texting. Parents are you scratching your heads; wondering why texting has taken such a hold upon your child? Are you teens, wondering why adults are making such a big deal about texting? Let’s chat: about the character of texting, the dangers of texting, and some observations to help maintain/regain Christian integrity in texting.
Ask yourself, “What message am I sending?” I am not talking about the texts and photos. I am talking about a bigger picture: times when you are talking in a group or interacting with your friends. What does your attention to a cellphone signal to those around you?
Suppose you are talking with a friend and during the conversation your friend pulls out a magazine and starts reading it. You would consider this rude. Similarly, if you are talking with a person about something that happened to you and he or she interrupts with questions that are off-topic, you recognise the person’s disinterest and the conversation ends. Something has been communicated. A message has been sent. In all conversations, there are understood rules that apply; matters of common courtesy that determine how we talk with one another: eye contact, facial expressions, and other factors called body language.
Here is the big picture. Your conversations are interrupted or distracted by sending and receiving texts. Texting allows quick and private interaction anywhere, anytime. No boundaries. This character has both benefits and limitations. First, consider the benefits. You save time and money in giving and receiving information. For example, you can quickly find directions if you are lost, or you can easily report crimes. Cellphones provide security for those driving or walking alone. You can determine the location of family and friends and arrange plans to meet. All this without the restrictions of time and place!
This loss of time/place restrictions carries with it some problems. Because of the recent development of this mode, there are no fixed social rules. These social conventions need to be worked out. One that needs to be addressed is the context in which texting occurs. Is there a right and wrong place and time for texting?
Step back, look at the big picture, and evaluate the context. Texting isn’t always wrong. It’s often rude and that, repeated over time, is wrong. Yes, this is the message that you’re sending. The occasions where conversations with others are to be nurtured and developed are lost and disrupted by the attention devoted to the all-pervasive mobile phone.
Recently I observed a family gathered for a meal in a restaurant. They were all talking together except for one child. She held her mobile phone under the table, at an angle where she could read her messages and send replies without observation. She was texting. This wasn’t a quick one-line interruption during the course of a conversation. That would be rude, but perhaps, excusable. Instead, this was an extended time period of 5 to 10 minutes. Rather than engage those who had taken the time to get together with her and her family, she pre-empted their presence with a date to her mobile phone. So rude, it was wrong. What’s the message? You can gain my undivided attention only through my mobile.
Step back for a moment and ask, “What message are you sending?” Not to those connected with your cellphone, but to those around you. Have you grasped the disruptive character of texting?
“What message are you sending?” applies not only to the context, but also the content. What is the subject matter being sent and received by you? There are several dangers.
The first is perhaps the least harmful. It is triviality. Texting is a monotone form of communication. Apart from capitalising letters, there is no way of establishing a tone for the conversation. There is no significant way to convey sympathy, appreciation, admonition, disgust or other emotions that are necessary for personal communication. These emotions require a graphic vocabulary when written and varied tones when spoken. Both are absent in texting. This absence of tone means that the intimate connection between what is sent and how it is received is severed. As a general rule, conversations are predetermined by the mode of communication. In other words, what we speak about depends on the mode of communication used. Important issues require lengthy discourse. This is not practical, given the length restrictions of texts. It is doubtful that texting can rise above dealing with trivial matters or conversely deal with important matters in any other way than a trivial manner. That’s a danger.
The second and more harmful danger is lack of accountability. Texting is a private form of communication, roughly equivalent to digital whispering. This aspect combined with the boundary-less character means that private communiqués can develop without discretion. You can converse about secret things without restriction. The danger of this lack of accountability is that the discussions can pry into private matters that one would normally blush to speak about in public. The privacy emboldens a loss of shame so that you ask and talk about things that you wouldn’t dare to mention in a face-to-face discussion. This is not a courageous conversation; this is a cop-out. This is a danger that needs to be recognised and resisted. Would you be willing to have your texts read by someone else? Should you then be sending them or receiving them?
The last danger is perversity. This arises from the combination of the previous dangers. It shows how sinful we are that society’s morality functions at the lowest common denominator. Conversations will decline towards immorality quicker and more frequently than they will rise to a God-honouring level of morality. The speed and frequency of texting heightens this danger. Sexually explicit jokes and conversations are transmitted because it is thought that, except for the recipient, no one will see or know. This danger is clearly forbidden by God’s word. This kind of communication must be repented of, avoided and abandoned. Eph. 5:11 warns:
Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.
The danger of perversity is not limited to sexual immorality. It includes gossip and malicious speech. This danger is not inherent in the mobile phones. It is a danger resident in the heart of everyone, due to their total depravity. These sins are a fire that burns in every breast. The mobile phone only adds fuel that stokes the fire. The ease and speed of communication via texting can quickly spread the fire. An example is seen in the race riots at Cronulla Beach, Sydney. One of the reasons this riot developed so quickly was due to the spread of information via texting. Here we have to be careful. The sinful behaviour arose from the hatred in the hearts of those who rioted. This is where the sin lies. However, the involvement of others in this riot was fuelled by the use of texting. The mobile phone can be a dangerous instrument in the hands of those whose hearts are not restrained by the word of God. This danger is heightened by the unaccountability.
How do so many get caught in the snare of perversity? There is a pattern in the degeneration of text conversation. It starts harmlessly, texting about trivial matters. Verbal test balloons are sent to see which way the moral winds are blowing. Will the recipient hold the sender accountable? If not, the envelope of morality is pushed and if not voluntarily restricted quickly deteriorates into perversity. As a secretive form of communication it can be used to “flaunt” the warnings of God’s word. Listen: Rom. 2:16 ...God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (see also Mt. 12:36; Rom. 14:12) God’s word is sufficient. Beware the Danger!
Do you see a slippery slope in your conversations? What message are you sending?
Observations for integrity in texting
Obviously, there is not a Bible verse that mentions cell phones. But there are verses that address how Christians are to relate to the products of a culture.
1 Cor.6:12 says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” God offers two guidelines for Christians that develop integrity. These guidelines are profitability, and not being mastered. Profitability has to do with usefulness or being advantageous. The guard against mastery has to do with the exercise of power or authority over your heart. Together these parameters are a fence that allows freedom within boundaries.
Notice first of all the context in which both of these qualifications occur. It addresses those things that are lawful. When Paul says, “All things are lawful for me,” the ‘all’ is not an absolute. Several verses later he makes an appeal to “flee immorality” (v. 18). He makes a moral judgement. Obviously, if there is behaviour that is immoral or unlawful, then his “all things” of verse 12 must be restricted to those things permitted by God’s law. Often blessings given by God and that which He permits can become the idols of the heart. This occurs when we love the gift rather than the Giver. Then that which is lawful becomes the master.
This applies to texting. Is it useful? What is the advantage? The profitability depends on the context. There are times when the use of this mode of communication is not profitable. There are contexts in which this mode of communication is a hindrance rather than an aid. In the context of God’s covenant people the determination of profitability is not personal criteria, but a corporate criterion. Is your use of texting advantageous to the body of believers?
Here are occasions in which texting is detrimental to the body of believers.
Worship – worship is the occasion in which God meets with His people. Texting in such a context is idolatrous, in that it seeks to communicate with someone other than God who has called and gathered His people. Our focus is on our phone, not our Father in heaven.
Catechism classes/Bible studies – these are occasions for instruction. Texting in such a circumstance communicates something to the students and to the leader of the study. It is a non-verbal way of declaring that the information taught is less important than a text.
Fellowship – fellowship is an important part of the communion of the saints. It is a way of demonstrating our love for a brother or sister. Texting in such contexts communicates exclusion and avoidance. If you joined a conversation and those talking started speaking in a foreign language, you would quickly feel out of place and excluded. It is not useful to the group if you have private conversations in the midst of a discussion. The same applies to texting.
What does preoccupation with a text communicate? What underlies these different occasions is an understanding of whose advantage you are seeking. Is it your own? The group’s? the body’s? the Lord’s? Whom do you serve, and where?
The second guideline is that of being mastered. This occurs when what is designed to be an aid becomes an authority. The servant becomes the master. The increase and ease of electronic communication has produced an addiction to information. To use the words of Paul, access to information is certainly lawful. There is nothing wrong with such access. In fact, there are many blessings associated with such access. Yet, while it is lawful, who is the master? Information is like a fire. It is beneficial when kept within its boundaries. A fire in my home is a blessing provided it remains in the wood-burner. Take it out, and it is detrimental if not deadly. What was designed to serve can quickly engulf and consume. The servant gains control.
So it is with the information age. Kept within its proper realm, information can be an excellent servant. But allow this servant to gain the devotion of your heart, and the servant becomes the master. Like a fire burning out of control, the quest for information becomes insatiable. Instant access is the false-gospel of this addiction. There is a desire to know all, and to know it all right now. The fire engulfs many hearts due to the boundary-less character of the mobile phone. Texting interrupts with a sense of immediacy. You need to respond or risk being left behind or worse, left out. This is why there are alarms to alert you to the need for recognition and response. It is the master beckoning for your attention. Do you find it hard to resist attention to this summons? Has that which is lawful become the master?
The lawful use of technology requires integrity. Biblically speaking, integrity is a voluntary restraint for the purpose of maintaining your relationship with God and with others. Strive to demonstrate integrity in texting. Use it in a way that will be profitable, and keep it as a servant rather than a master. How?
Firstly, guard your heart. Integrity begins with an awareness of the liabilities. The liability of your heart to take that which is good, and devote yourself to it rather than God. You cannot serve two masters. When firefighters combat a raging wildfire, they light backfires. When this happens, the controlled backfires consume the fuel and oxygen needed for the wildfire to continue. In this way the wildfire is contained. This analogy helps to illustrate how to guard your heart. The temptations of the flesh are wildfires burning that will quickly consume your life. Philippians 2:4 says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Serving others out of a love for God is a backfire that will suppress the wildfire of serving self. The fire of self-indulgence might be using the tool of texting for its fuel. Counter this with the question of God’s word. Is sending or receiving texts serving those around you? Are you texting because you want to help them, or because you want to help yourself? What message are you sending?
Secondly, guard your head. This relates to the transmission of immoral texts and images. These leave a lasting impression on the mind. It is not easy to get out of your mind the evils you hear and see. These must be countered. When you receive them (not if), how will you respond? Do not be mastered by evil, but overcome evil with good. Philippians 4:8 encourages,
Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise dwell on these things.
Use the servant to foster these virtues.
Lastly, recognise the need for grace. To be discerning requires the mind of Christ. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is the call of discipleship. It will not come easily or naturally. It comes by grace working. That is what God has promised in 1 Cor.10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” Being a disciple requires discipline. But even this self-control is promised as the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22ff).
Everything we say and do communicates who or what has the devotion of your heart. What message are you sending?