To all my dear friends out there: I have but one small request to ask of you. Please do not send me a text message.##M:[more]## If I don’t respond, it’s not because I’m trying to avoid you or because I’m too busy or because I’m being rude. I will not respond to your text message because, quite simply, I don’t know how. And learning how is not at the top of my priority list right now. In fact, it’s right up there with driving a stick shift. I’ve managed quite well without either in my 40-plus years and despite what certain people in my very own house may think about both points, I think I’ll continue to be okay.
The pace of technological change is overwhelming. Keeping up with figuring out how to work every new thing could almost be a full-time job. Christmas Eve used to mean parents, usually dear old dad, sweating it out with the screwdriver, putting together such items as bicycles and scooters, using complicated, sometimes incomprehensible instructions often badly translated from another language. Now it means poring over even more complicated, sometimes incomprehensible instructions trying to put together some new electronic gizmo or game. I have a better idea. Leave it in the box and let the kids handle it in the morning. They’ll get it done in half the time anyway without the instructions.
That generational thing seems particularly applicable to such technologies as text messaging. Doing some informal surveys of my own, I’ve discovered that the age of demarcation seems to be about 30, though my daughter will tell you that the hippest of parents are right in there, pumping out text messages on their cells with a dexterity that’s impressive.
My first encounter with text messaging was the result of what I thought was a technical malfunction. The message icon was up, but when I tried to retrieve the voice mail, it told me there were no new messages. I turned to my teenager for help.
“Katie, I don’t get this. The icon won’t disappear and yet there’s no voice-mail for me to retrieve.”
“That’s because you have a text message, mom,” she said, with a roll of her eyes in that universal and exasperating language of teenagers.
“Oh. So how do I retrieve it?”
“Like this, mom.” Her eyes rolled again as her thumb waved about.
“Can you run that by me again? I didn’t quite catch that. And if you roll your eyes again at me, young lady, you’re grounded.”
Needless to say, it was not a warm, mother-daughter bonding moment. However, on this particular trend, I’m relieved to report that I am in the majority, at least for now. According to one Internet survey company, on a typical day, 11 percent of adults in the United States, about 16 million, are text messaging. That means that 89 percent, like me, are not. Adults are defined as those over the age of 18 and perhaps that’s why those percentages seem abnormally low. The bulk of the text messaging appears to be done by young people, those below the age of 18.
Still, we’re considerably behind the rest of the world on this growing trend. One survey estimates that 2.9 billion text messages are sent worldwide every day, but only about 14 percent of those are in North America. Who’s ahead of us? Europe, Japan, and the Philippines. A friend who travels to Asia on business told me that everywhere you go, people are walking down the street, heads down, thumbs flying.
There’s got to be something wrong with a society that has the need to reach out and touch someone no matter where they are, what time it is, and what else they might be doing. Is time so short and the need for multi-tasking that great? In the news this week is the story of a 17-year-old in Colorado who lost control of his car and struck and killed a bicyclist. Police say he was text messaging behind the wheel. The teenager could face a charge of careless driving and under Colorado law, up to a year in prison.
In addition to the downside, there are, obviously, benefits to text messaging, just as there are with any kind of new technology. For example, a businesswoman who uses it regularly for work says it’s great because even if you’re in a dead cell phone area and a call won’t go out, a text message will. It’s also works if you’re on a train or in a restaurant or other public place and don’t want to be rude by talking loudly into a phone. My sister-in-law actually uses it to communicate with her daughter who’s away at college, because even if she’s in class and can’t pick up her cell, she can respond to a text.
Kids, of course, are taking this idea to an extreme. The most skilled can peck out messages without looking at the keypad, and many have used this technique to hide their phones under their desks to text each other in school. Eyes straight ahead, seemingly enrapt by the lecture, they’ve gotten so good at this that apparently many teachers have no clue. It’s the hi-tech answer to the age-old teenage tradition of passing notes during class. Except that today’s kids are not limited by the boundaries of the classroom walls.
The phone companies are all over this, offering plans that range from an a la carte, fee per message, or monthly plans. A friend who uses text messaging for work has a plan that lets her reach places like India. She pays $3.99 a month for 300 messages and says that’s plenty. Another friend pays $19.99 a month for 1,"000 messages for her daughter, who is averaging 650 to 700 messages a month. Her media plan is bundled together with photo downloading and Internet service.
The one big benefit I can see to text messaging is that it provides another way to communicate with your teenager. Because it’s non-verbal and does not require eye contact, they just might reveal something to you that they might be uncomfortable saying out loud. But the bottom line is that when it comes to communicating with my kids, I’d rather do it the old-fashioned way. I’ve discovered that speaking is quite a powerful and efficient way to deliver my point.
Moreover, I also tend to worry about things like tendonitis and other health risks that come from overusing certain parts of the body that were never meant to do certain tasks. Somehow, when God gave teenagers opposable thumbs, I don’t think that text messaging was exactly what He had in mind.