“Text, please!”

Does our cultural hatred of phone calls make us unhappier people?

Adrian Eaton


My taxi driver from the airport spotted his coworker driving a car right next to us at an intersection in the heart of Rome.

He called up the friend, having a laugh-filled chat for 3 or 4 minutes (complete with trademark Italian hand-gestures that would make a passenger wonder how he can hold a phone, drive, and talk simultaneously). He hung up, then immediately called his friend back to add one more sentence before hanging up again. I hadn’t seen people talk on the phone like that since the numberpad-texting days.

I think U.S. Americans have a subconscious awareness that our language is ugly, as evidenced by our strong preference for texting over talking.

U.S. English is laborious, clunky, and displeasing to the ear. It somehow invites shrillness as much as it welcomes monotony. As a result, we prefer texting. We rely on written words, shorthand, and emojis to communicate. We get frustrated when people call us instead of texting.

Contrast this with Italians, who seem to know that their language is beautiful — so beautiful, it’s begging to be spoken aloud.

One thing I noticed traveling to Italy is that Italians love to talk.

This means you won’t see Italians’ eyes glued to their phone, facing downwards as they text and walk.

At first I felt like a typical techno-curmudgeon mistaking culture shock for some profound revelation. But the more I paid attention, the more I saw how talking on the phone allows people to have an entirely different connection with their environment.

When you’re talking, you’re looking up and around and experiencing the place you’re in that moment. You see other people, and they see you as a part of the collective whole of that community. You belong.

When you’re texting, you’re looking down and inward and disconnecting yourself from your surroundings. You separate yourself from other people, and they see you as an obstacle or an outsider. You isolate.