In this week’s Torah portion, the Jewish people receive the Torah. More specifically, the nation hears God proclaim the Ten Commandments, which become the ethical (no murder) and practical (take a day of rest) principles that have guided the Jewish people for thousands of years.
Far less life-altering but no less universal, I’d like to suggest some commandments (ten, obviously) for bringing order to the chaotic world of texting. No, I don’t think I’m God, but I can recognize a society in need of order. The Ten Commandments of Texting come from my own experiences and mistakes. In some cases I’ve added a little explanation, some midrash, if you will, to discuss the concepts further. Some rules speak for themselves.
#1: You shall use texts to communicate basic information to family, friends, and occasionally to colleagues. Keep it simple.
Which one of us is picking up Sam at soccer? How about I bring a chocolate babka to your house for Shabbat dinner? Can we move the meeting back 30 minutes?
#2. You shall use texts to convey love and joy, but no other emotions.
Texting is not for anger, which I seem to learn at least once a year when I make the mistake of “discussing” an issue over text because one of us didn’t have the maturity (OK, usually it’s me) to pick up the phone or make a coffee date. Have you ever texted something in anger and felt good about it later? Here’s a tip: Type out the angry text and send it to yourself as an email. Imagine your friend or family member receiving those words on her phone. How will she feel?
The last time I sent an angry text, my friend did not respond at all, which was the perfect reaction and of course her painful silence was exactly what I deserved. Whether or not I was justified in my original anger became beside the point. Never text in a rage. You will always be in the wrong.
#3: You shall make an effort to respond to texts succinctly without coming off curt and rude.
I’m sorry to say that short but sweet texting is an art. In Salon last month, writer Erin Coulehan wrote the much-discussed piece “Stop texting like this: How 1 extra character turns a plain message into a passive-aggressive dig.” What was the character in question? The period. In reporting on the study discussed in the piece as well as her own experience, Coulehan stated that, “‘Sure.’ no longer reads as an agreement, but passive aggressive indifference.”
#4. You shall respond to texts in a timely manner.
“How about I bring a babka?” your dinner guest asks. Well, if you would rather she bring wine, say so and say it when you see the text. You especially need to respond in a reasonable time frame if you’re one of these people with the phone around nonstop. It’s a double-edged sword, I know. Nobody can stand that your phone is always around, but we know it is so we feel slighted when you leave our texts hanging. Babka? Wine? This is the only day I’m getting to the store so tell me what to bring in the next two hours or we’re coming with flowers.
#5. You shall figure out how to turn off the “read” notification if you want to take your time responding to texts.
In a fair world, nobody would expect you to respond to texts quickly. Since that’s not our world, I recommend turning off the option in your phone’s settings that allows others to be notified when you have read their messages. I recently learned that trick from Kveller’s wise prophetess editor, Molly Tolsky, and the lesson can be summed up in one word: Revelation.
#6. You shall not use an emoji when the situation calls for words.
If a friend texts bad news, you should respond with a heartfelt, “I’m sorry,” and a sincere offer to help, not the sad panda emoji.
#7. You shall accept that texts defy the old-school rules of proper phone call timing.
People can text you any time. If you don’t want a text to wake you at 11:00 p.m., then for goodness sake, turn off your phone, or don’t keep it in the bedroom. Texts are not in the same camp as phone calls, which everyone knows should not happen too early or too late.
#8. You shall not use iPhone’s Siri (or the voice shortcuts from other companies) to text long, complicated messages because Siri will make your text unintelligible.
If you have that much to say, it might be time—and I know this is hard—to call the person you’re trying to text. And don’t worry, nobody answers the phone anyway so you can likely leave that long message directly into the voicemail, which means your explanation about why you’re canceling our Shabbat plans won’t come out sounding like, “Traffic downtown pickles and cats refrigerator radio applesauce Highway 62.”
#9. You shall start a new group text when some of the members on the original group text no longer need to participate in the discussion.
We will not feel left out. We are begging you to spare us.
#10. You shall not text and drive.
If you follow only one commandant of texting, let it be this one.
Any “commandments of texting” you would add?