This or That: Talking vs. Texting

Cell phones let you communicate almost anywhere. But is it better to talk to someone or send a text message?

April 28, 2009

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Your neighbor on an airplane is chattering noisily on her cell, preventing you from taking a much-needed nap. When you text your friend to convey your irritation, she responds with a message you can’t understand. So, which is the superior means of cell phone communication, talking or sending text messages? Which is better for your health, for the environment, and for being understood?

This: Talking


Pros: Clearly you can have more meaningful conversations when speaking over the phone than when trading abbreviated text messages. And holding a conversation via cell phone only requires the use of one hand (or none, if you use a headset or hands-free setup).

Cons: The science is still out on whether cell phones raise your risk of cancer. A recent review published in the international journal Pathophysiology shows that a majority of industry-funded research found very little evidence of a link between cell phones and brain tumors—while all of the independently funded studies saw a “significant increased brain tumor risk.” Brain tumors aren’t the only health hazard associated with cell phones. Recent research on brain activity and communication has found that drivers are just as prone to cell-phone-related car accidents while using hands-free devices as they are while holding the phone.

That: Texting

Pros: The recipient is more apt to reply to a text than a phone call, according to a recent survey from uReach Technologies, which operates voice mail systems for a few cell phone companies. They found that 20 percent of people who get voice mail rarely check it, while 91 percent of people under 30 check a text message within an hour of receiving it—and are four times more likely to respond to a text than to a voice message. Texts are better for the environment, too, since they use a third less energy than a phone conversation to impart the same information. Plus, you aren’t holding the device up to your ear and are therefore reducing your exposure to any radiation.

Cons: From a communication standpoint, texting is an imperfect art. “Because texting is brief, easy, and somewhat ambiguous due to the use of abbreviations and symbols (like winks and smiley faces), there is often a lack of clarity, directness, and accountability,” says Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., and advisor.

This or That?

That. Go with texting, unless you need a deeper conversation. In terms of the environment and your health, texting takes less of a toll. Nevertheless, Rossman recommends keeping a few things in mind before you give up person-to-person conversations altogether:

1. Use texting for short, practical, conversations, like arranging a place and time to meet.

2. Phone calls are better for more thoughtful, complex communication. (Use a hands-free device or a land line to avoid radiation exposure.)

3. Be careful of misinterpretations. “You can use texting for casual contact or flirting,” says Rossman. “But beware that the message you send may be misinterpreted by the receiver if it’s laden with abbreviations, symbols, and ambiguous phrases.”

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