As we've seen during the first half of 2009 relating to Twitter, the people often most interested in evolving technology are the ones not using it. Tweeters, for the most part, aren't those who are causing the hullabaloo surrounding it. We look on as spectators, some because we avoid getting swept up into fads, others because we expect that technology has passed us by.
For me, text messaging is the popular trend that brings my attention and fascination. Yet always from a certain distance. I've read numerous stories discussing young people's obsessions with texting. I even attended the National Text Messaging Championship last summer in New York City to get a better sense of what this rising phenomenon was all about. I watched the country's fastest texters compete to win $50,000. The ranged in age from approximately 14 to 24.
Whether reading or watching, I consistently marvel at the pronounced number of texts that these teens send in a given month. While their numbers land in the tens of thousands, I am pushing the buttons on roughly a dozen a month. I justify my resistance by proclaiming that I need not another mode of communication to reach my family and friends. The culture that has developed from these articles and events demonstrates that text messaging is a different product -- and beast -- from the hand held cell phone device. Designed as a feature, text messaging has risen to rival video games as the primary distraction leading young minds astray.
These newspaper pieces don't squarely pinpoint the blame for the obsession on teenagers. They recognize that parents, too, have grown to depend on their own devices to respond to e-mails, surf the Net, or otherwise occupy their attention. I recall in recent months sitting next to a family of four at a busy restaurant on a Sunday evening. The father was fixated on his Blackberry, his children to each of his sides holding tightly onto similar devices. Across the table sat the man's wife, empty-handed, waiting patiently for her family to mentally return to the dinner table.
Implementing a no-electronics-at-the-dinner-table rule would seem like a viable option for families like this one. Yet, you could somehow tell from the mother's helpless temperament that any previous attempts to curtail this type of behavior had been futile and forgotten.
And that's the scope I believe from which these newspaper stories approach this issue and overall culture. As a society, we tend to accept that texting has gone overboard with the even larger technological craze. As tough as it is to scale back, it's even tougher to convince others to.
Efforts that advocate for projects like Turn Off Your TV Week go unnoticed or are deemed too difficult to try. And let's face it: An act of deprivation or temporary detachment is probably too much for most to handle. Questions about the impact of overuse and preoccupation aren't new arguments. Neither is the lack of evidence showing the risks involved in texting. That's what makes it so difficult to bridge people's positions with their practices.
Parents have long been urged to monitor their kids' activities and to promote moderation. At the end of the day, though, parents probably see texting as the least of their concerns. For those parents whose kids are not sexting, there's no reason for a scare or to cause a rift between them. For parents waiting for a list of motivating factors to cut down on their kids' texting usage, today's Times story offers some possible reasons to offer their kids when asked why.
It hurts their thumbs. It causes anxiety. Teenagers lose sleep. Their grades suffer.
The proposed solution to these problems is not to take away the phones or to cut down on minutes. Rather, it's to provide children with the attention they demand and deserve. If parents put down their devices, kids will follow. It's an argument that hits home and promotes family values. That's a message that even non-texters will wish to send.