This article appeared in the November 07, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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When support is just a text away

Randall Benton/AP
For better or for worse, text messaging has revolutionized communication, on the one hand reducing face-to-face interactions, while on the other opening up new avenues for communication. Here, an emergency room physician uses her cellular phone to communicate with a remote patient, from her home in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 28, 2019.

Today’s five hand-picked stories examine the rural-suburban trade-off in U.S. politics, the unifying power of protests, the tales of those jailed in East Germany on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, what the 25th Amendment has to do with impeachment, and what meatless burgers say about the mainstreaming of green viewpoints. 

First: Texting and technology are often seen as divisive forces increasing isolation in society. But recently, a different kind of story went viral.

Chastity Patterson, a young woman from Arkansas, posted on Facebook that she had been texting her dad’s phone number since he died four years ago. She’d never received a reply – until the day before the anniversary of his death. The answer: “Hi sweetheart, I am not your father, but I have been getting all your messages for the past 4 years. ... My name is Brad and I lost my daughter in a car wreck August 2014 and your messages have kept me alive.”

Earlier last month, BBC News reported a similar story about two women who supported each other via text message through family illness and loss after one texted the former phone number of her late brother. There have also been stories of wrong-number texts launching fundraisers for a wedding, hospital bills, and diapers for a newborn

In an age where most social interactions are typed, researchers, essayists, and podcasters alike have pondered whether this mode of communication affects our capacity for emotional connection. 

“Verbal communication is unique,” Leslie Seltzer, a biological anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Vice last year. Technology and nonverbal communication aren’t necessarily bad, but the added texture of vocal inflection and facial expressions represents signals we use to feel close with each other.

Still, friendly text exchanges between strangers suggest that humanity’s desire to connect and capacity to care about one another remains strong – no matter how we “meet.”

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This article appeared in the November 07, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 11/07 edition