The mobile phone found its way to the Philippines when the first generation of Global Systems for Mobile Communication or GSM handsets was introduced in the country in 1994. This GSM protocol eventually developed to introduce a faster and more efficient means of storing, manipulating, and transmitting data by allowing data to be translated into a series of ones and zeroes. Digital technology furthered the mobile phone’s potentials from being a mere “talking device on the move” (Leung and Wei 316) to a more dynamic participant in the new information age. The capacity to merge all forms of binary data enabled mobile phones to allow convergent services such as chatting, voice-mail, news updates, e-mailing, Internet browsing, and even the dissemination of image and audio files. Apart from the allure of the possibilities of digital communication, the mobile phone was also welcomed in the Philippines because of its convenience; it provided the country, especially the rural areas where telephones are unavailable or inaccessible, with a modern means of communication. A survey conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS) in 2001 reveals the extent of the dissemination of this technology in the Philippines: “Out of the 15 million households in the Philippines, an estimated 2.5 million have a cellular phone, of which 2.3 million have text-messaging capacity. For the entire nation, text-messaging is available to 15% of all households in general, but it is available to 53% of ABC households in particular. Of the 2.3 million text-capable households in the nation, 800 thousand are in Metro Manila.” Of the 80 million Filipinos, there are now 22 million mobile phone owners in the country compared to only 6.7 million subscribed landlines (Lallana 1).
Of the various digital applications of the mobile phone, text messaging is still considered to be the most exploited service in the Philippines. A voice call placed through the mobile phone would typically cost around six to seven pesos per minute while a text message costs a peso per message. Corollary, a typical Filipino now sends an average of ten messages every day, contributing to a daily traffic of over 300 million text messages (Pertierra 58). This has led to the popular notion of the Philippines as the “texting capital of the world” (Pertierra et al. 88).
In Text-ing Selves, a study that examines the use of mobile phones in the country, Pertierra and other researchers argue that texting has made it possible to create new unsurveilled and unconventional human relationships. In one case cited in the book, for example, a male and a female texter met after an accidental exchange of text messages. Although initially they were very reserved and guarded, familiarity between the two was fostered greatly because the medium allowed for an anonymous and uncommitted communication. Eventually, they met and shortly after that, got engaged. A second instance involved a person who exchanged phone numbers with his friends to pursue strangers and win new friends by texting. He engaged in virtual or text-based “affairs” with women, which would later on result to actual physical sex. Another case examined was that of an 18-year old bisexual who met “textmates” by participating in interactive Text TV chatrooms. Although he eventually met up with individuals to have sex, he professed to use the Text TV mainly to create these virtual relationships with persons of the same sex. (Pertierra et al. 64-89)
It is because of the considerable popularity of the medium and the possible repercussions of such curious relationships and interpersonal communication patterns that the phenomenon of mobile phone use, particularly that of texting, in the Philippines is worthy of systematic scrutiny. Thus, the purpose of this study is to examine the relational context being created through this wireless messaging system. An exploratory study, this research examines the contributions of the texting technology that allowed development of romantic relationships among its users. Ultimately, this paper aims to identify what makes texting a novel romantic device in the Philippines.
The framework in the understanding of relationship development through texting incorporates Malcolm Parks’ theory of relationship life cycle and network (352). In his proposal, interpersonal relationships of all types are usually conceptualized as developing from the impersonal to the personal along a series of relatively specific dimensions: increases in interdependence, in the variety and intimacy of interaction, in interpersonal predictability and understanding, in the change toward more personalized ways of communicating and coordinating, in commitment, and in the convergence of the participants’ social networks. According to Parks (359-68), relationships move within the constructive character of communication that involves the interaction of the structure and content of communication between the participants. Thus, the researcher would like to identify the relationship between these seven factors of relationship development and the texting technology.
This research identified the attributes of the texting technology along the seven dimensions of Park’s theory of relational development. Qualitative data was obtained and explored in the light of the concepts presented in the related literature, particularly the theoretical discourses of Paul Levinson and Raul Pertierra et al. A total of 43 respondents, 21 males and 22 females, were selected through purposive sampling to derive exploratory data through the in-depth interview method.
Texting and Interdependence
Unwritten Rule of Texting
Respondents revealed that their relationships developed with their respective partners because texting made them more dependent on each other. “It became a habit” (Emmy). Partners texted each other as often as they could, until they have established themselves as regular textmates. One respondent’s day would also be influenced by his partner’s text message: “Kapag hindi siya nakakapagtext, nami-miss ko siya (If she doesn’t text, I miss her). Her simple ‘good morning’s’ can really help me start my day right.” At this level of the relationship, texters always had the compulsion to keep the communication constantly moving. One respondent attributed this to the “unwritten rule of texting.” Clara elaborated:
You know there’s this unwritten rule in texing: once a person has texted you, you have to reply. If you don’t reply, the person will automatically think you ignored him or her on purpose. So you have to reply no matter what. Even when you really have nothing to say, you’re forced to come up with something or give your opinion just to keep the conversation going.
Immediacy and Accessibility
Some respondents exhibited interdependence by “reporting” or informing each other of the happenings in their individual lives. Arnel shared:
Ang ilang pinakanatulong sa amin ng texting ay to inform each other kung saan na kami at kung anong pinagkakaabalahan namin at a specific time, especially kung hindi kami magkasama. (One of the greatest aid of texting in our relationship is that it enables us to inform each other about where we are and what we are doing at a specific time, especially if we are not together).
He also added that texting allows them to organize their schedules as well as to logistically set meeting times or inform the other of one’s tardiness.
Texting also allowed for the individuals in the relationship to influence each other’s thoughts, behaviors, and actions. “Kapag nagkukuwento siya kung anong nangyari sa kaniya tapos tingin ko mali, pinagsasabihan ko siya (If she tells me stories about what happened to her and then I see that there’s something wrong with it, I admonish her)” (Jesus).
Jack summarized how the texting technology facilitated these indicators of interdependence between romantic partners:
There’s a feeling of security that having a cellphone gives to a certain person, because you know that, more often than not, you can and will be reached by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and vice versa. So when I need comfort, or someone to listen, or I need to vent, or I need my boyfriend’s opinion, or I need his help in making a decision, it’s really relieving to know that he’s just a text or phone call away.
These responses from the participants in a texting romantic relationship confirm Paul Levinson’s arguments of the mobile phone’s feature of accessibility. In the book Cellphone: The Story of the World’s Most Mobile Medium and How it has Transformed Everything! he mentions that the mobile phone technology, particularly texting, permits users to make instant, immediate and direct delivery of messages. He further explains that texting can be a romancing tool because before there was the mobile phone, people placing call through the telephone had to make sure that the persons they are asking out on a date are at home when the phone rings (Levinson 97).
Texting and Depth: Privacy and Levinson’s Silence
Texting also facilitated an efficient exchange of a variety of important, intimate, and personal topics and feelings for most of the respondents. A number of respondents even confessed that they could go as intimate as exchanging sexual messages with their partners. One respondent revealed that he could text his partner anything “kahit nga text sex pwede rin eh (even ‘sex text’ is allowed).”
But mostly, the text exchanges consisted of intimate romantic feelings that one could not manage to say in person. Richard shared: “For example, through text we can say ‘I love you’ to each other. Aside from that, nasasabi ko rin yung mga problems na hindi ko masabi ng harapan (I could tell her about my problems that I could not say face-to-face).”
Arnel, a homosexual, attributed this ease of transmitting intimate and personal topics and feelings to the texting technology’s unique feature of privacy. “Kasi wari bang nakakalikha ng pribadong espasyo yung screen ng phone mo na kahit na magkalayo kayo” (Because the mobile phone screen is able to create a private space that even if you are far from each other) physically, the virtual space created by that technology is apparent. Because no one can hear you say those things or no one else can read [them], assuming na hindi pinabasa sa ibang tao o hindi nakita (that it is not allowed to be read or seen by others) (Arnel).
Arnel’s discussion of the private space that allows for intimate exchanges links up with Paul Levinson’s silence as one of the biggest benefit of the texting technology. Texting permits receivers to view their messages in private as opposed to having others in the environment hear and know about their particular communication or simply even just the fact that they are communicating (Levinson 112-14).
RJ would associate this capability to swap intimate information between partners to texting’s provision for anonymity.
In texting, there is the element of anonymity, thus, you can feel more comfortable with sharing more intimate messages. As opposed to a face-to-face conversation wherein you would tend to hold back some feelings or thoughts because of fear of outright rejection. Personally, I consider that factor as a very important element in the development of our relationship. Because I am not really the aggressive-frank type of guy, I tend to hold back in telling her intimate things face to face.
The feature of anonymity that the respondents mentioned seems to refer to one characteristic that Pertierra, et al. (91) outlined in their book. They wrote that communication through texting has also efficiently incorporated meaning, intention, and expressions allowing texters to say what is normally unsayable in face-to-face contexts. This clearly points to the comfort that the respondents identified when they’d share about intimate details like their exes and other information that a typical “non-aggressive-frank guy, who fears outright rejection,” would.
Perhaps an additional feature that might be closely related to privacy and anonymity is the autonomous nature of the texting technology. Homosexuals like Jetrin took advantage of this feature to facilitate unconventional same-sex affairs: “Unlike pagers, mobile phones are not monitored, therefore I can pretty much say what I want to the other person. I get to express myself more clearly and intimate[ly]”. Because of this absence of censorship, texters can confidently say “’I love you’ or ‘I want to throw you against the wall and make you feel like a cheap whore’ (Jetrin)” without having to concern themselves about a third-party processing their messages.
Texting and Breadth
Expressing Real and Virtual Emotions
Because of these various constraints, respondents started to locate other avenues to communicate with their partners. Thus, the breadth of the relationship increased. Other means of communication that the respondents mentioned are face-to-face encounters, voice phone calls (either landline or mobile phone), e-mail, chat (YM, ICQ, Web cam, etc.), and even snail mail. However way they decided to extend their communication beyond texting, almost all of them declared that it is still texting that instigated this movement to another medium. One respondent said “Of course text ang taga-initiate (initiates) and then more ways [follow] after.”
Although texting employs a dualistic nature of beneficial anonymity and uncertainty between exchanging partners, a number of respondents still express optimism about the texting technology’s capacity to bridge the gap between expressing real and virtual emotions. Some claimed that “even [in] text [there is] personality; smiling face, exclamation points, feelings are still communicated.” RG also expressed that “yung mga smileys nakakatulong sa pag-express ng emotions (smileys help in expressing emotions).” Jake added that “qualities like the smiley faces and sad faces you can make using the punctuation marks, etc. can really add warmth and depth to text messages.”
Texting and Commitment
Since most of the couples in a romantic relationship did not have the luxury of time to meet up in person or talk over the phone regularly, the frequency of texting became a distinct indication about their commitment to their relationships. “To commit is to be there for the person, 24/7. Texting helps in achieving that despite of the barriers in time and distance” (Von). Didith showed the other end of this phenomenon: “When he texted less and less in the course of the relationship, it made me doubt about … his commitment.” This regularity of texting also provided for strengthening the bond and connection between partners that ultimately “As we share more and more of our lives with each other, more trust develops…and the more trust you instill in each other, the more you expect the relationship to be stronger and more lasting” (Jack).
Convenience and Affordability
Some respondents pointed out texting’s convenient nature of linking partners who are rather separated by physical and geographical limits. Richard used texting to contact his partner “kasi malayo kami sa isa’t-isa, lalo na kapag umuuwi siya sa Bulacan. Texting ang pinakamadali, cheapest, and convenient way para makapag-communicate kami (because we are far from each other, especially if she goes home to Bulacan. Texting is the fastest, cheapest, and convenient way for us to communicate).” This “presence” that strengthens the commitment between partners, as suggested by most of the respondents, indicates the capacity of the mobile phone to transform into an extension of the human body and connect partners intimately.
Texting, Predictability and Understanding
Some of the respondents agreed that it is the regularity of texting that enabled them to become more capable of understanding and predicting their partner’s feelings and behaviors. Tina articulated this: “Probably due to redundancy, one can predict how the other will react to certain statements.” Jake also expressed the same suggestion:
Texting in our relationship has become a routine, actually. Texting has become like talking for us. And the more we text/talk, the more we get to know each other. Nagiging sanay na kami sa ugali at pag-iisip ng isa’t-isa (We become used to each other’s attitudes and thinking). So it’s inevitable for us to be able to predict one another’s reactions and thoughts to certain topics. Because we get to a point wherein we feel like we know each other so well, that when we are able to correctly predict a feeling or behavior, we find it amusing.
In the end, the regularity of the interaction brought about learning. “I’ve learned much of her from texting. I knew that she becomes disappointed with certain things or she really appreciates it when I do certain things. It became easier for me to learn about her thoughts, feelings, etc.” (RJ)
Managing of Contextual Cues
A lot of the respondents mentioned that their understanding and predictability of their partners was also heightened by the context of the construction of the messages that were being transmitted. “If there are smiley faces, then we’re okay. No cute expressions mean we’re in a serious mode” (Didith). “Either an added word, a missing word, or a word out of place in the message gives me the clue” (Jake). The textual structure and signs became instrumental into the translation of how to perceive another’s feelings or reactions. “For example, pag normal, sweet words yung nasa text, may mga ‘I love you,’ mga ganon. Pero kung galit siya, may iba. Minsan ‘Oo’ lang yung sagot. Kaya mas nakikilala ko pa siya through text (For example, on a normal circumstance, her text would contain sweet words like ‘I love you.’ But if she’s mad, it’s different. At times, she would just reply with a mere ‘yes.’ That’s why I get to know her more through text)” (Richard).
Texting and Communicative Change
Own Private World
Texting allowed respondents to create special languages that they used to interact with their own partners. It is an inherent characteristic of texting that limits messages up to 360 characters only, and it becomes almost a requirement to really adapt a rather abbreviated way of writing when one has to send a message. In this study however, it was found that the languages that respondents created were not the usual languages that the general public would use or understand in texting – it even went beyond the usual use of the popular smileys. Respondents revealed that they created codes that only they and their respective partners understood in their “own private world” (Jackie, Emma). “How I text him is different from how I text other people so I don’t think other people would understand what I’m telling him, and why the manner is so if they read our messages” (Anika). Leana shared an example:
My partner and I have created special nicknames and shortcuts that only the two of us know and understand. Kunyari (For example), we have our own way of saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you.’ To send a kiss… we use a set of characters different from the usual. Basta secret na namin ‘yon (It is our secret).
Majority of the respondents identified communicative code change as the most exciting and fun part in texting. “It is one of the best things about relating with someone through texting. It is one of the most fun things to do” (Mario). And the amusement that this interaction caused was not only limited in the virtual environment and the textual context. “It is one of the fun things about our texting and it even carries over when we are together personally” (Justin). “Since words are what we have, we play with them and try to be creative. Para masaya, exciting (So that it is fun and exciting)” (Charm). Incidentally, this sense of fun and excitement is also one of the attributes that Pertierra and his co-authors mentioned in their book Txt-ing Selves (Pertierra et al. 140): “Many see texting as an opportunity for fun.”
Texting and Network Convergence
Texting also made network convergence possible among partners, and their respective social circles, in a romantic relationship. Because the respondents engaged in non-stop texting, their friends and family started to notice their change in behavior. “People become curious… They want to know the person I text with every minute of every day… I guess people can tell when a person’s in love, even when it has only developed through texting” (Clara). Jake shared a very likely scenario: “If you get text messages when you’re with your friends/family and you laugh at the message you receive, or just react to whatever you receive, you’d have to make kwento (tell) who you’re texting to make sense of your reactions.” Others though, readily announced their relationships to everyone: “I’ll text my friends first na ‘Uy, may bago ako.’ (I will text my friends first that: ‘Hey, I have a new girlfriend.’)” (Richard).
But sometimes, texters also introduced their partners to people outside their friends and family circles. “Sometimes, it even goes beyond personal. Example, if my ‘new partner’ who has never met any of my friends and family need help with something (business, academic, etc.) then I introduce him to someone from my circle who can be of help to him” (Jetrin).
Network convergence could also take place through and within the medium itself. Respondents revealed that their family and friends actually interact with each other through texting without necessarily having the opportunity to meet in person. Pauline shared: “Ate (My older sister)… used to send text messages to him before to ask where I am. And my mom stole his number from my phone ‘just in case’.” Didith and her boyfriend also experienced having their friends involved in the dynamics of their relationship: “During our first major quarrel, he texted and called my friend to ask what I was mad about. Likewise, when we have a minor spat, I call his friend to vent or ask about him.”
This study establishes the texting technology’s capacity as a romancing gadget. As the interview participants pointed out, because of the technology’s capacity to allow users to create their own world capable of expressing real and virtual emotions, and managing contextual cues, texters were able to increase their dependence and understanding of one another. It also allowed for partners to exchange more personal and intimate information through an instant and private delivery of messages. The facilitation of communicative change made their relationship more exciting and that the texting medium itself became the message of commitment to their relationship. Finally, texting also led the partners to introduce one another to their families and friends either through the texting environment or face-to-face. Ultimately, texting became their means to achieving intimacy and romance.
Texting offered a modern communication medium for carrying out traditional gender roles in pursuing romance for the heterosexual majority of the respondents. However, the messaging tool also empowered the homosexuals and bisexuals involved in the study. The highly private and autonomous textual environment enabled them to explore new and unorthodox romantic and even sexual relations.
Moreover, texting may be considered as a venue for “technological foreplay” (Nadarajan). Almost all of those who have used texting to sustain their intimacy indicated the choice to expand to other modes of communication. Although relationships set in a purely virtual environment actually exist, the findings that these relationships rarely stay virtual point to the idea that the virtual setting of texting becomes simply just another place where partners get to exercise their romance for each other, only to be further “consummated” perhaps by a face-to-face contact.
Data gathering for this research revealed a noteworthy number of respondents who engage in a purely virtual textual relationship. A further investigation of this occurrence will be able to highlight the capacity of texting as a relationship gadget. Long distance relationships sustained by this technology also provide a good ground for the exploration of the text messaging’s potentials as communication tool.