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Kids Today: Why Do We Text More Than We Talk?

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Text Messaging is cheap and easy, but is it -- patriotic?

Like any self-aware young adult, I enjoy being told what trends I'm a part of. It makes me feel important, loved, and part of something larger than myself. Most recently, the New York Times reported that the youngest generation text message far more often than they chat on the phone. This fact doesn't surprise me, but it does disappoint.

I have to agree that talking on the phone has become burdensome. I get nervous and unsure of myself when forced to dial a number and engage another person, even a close friend. There's confusion and intermittent static, and the hurt of a dropped call can cut deep. The politics of auditory dialogue are confusing, for sure. I'm always speaking over someone, or repeating myself, or filling long pauses with inappropriate laughter.

I may not even know the basics of a phone conversation, but I know the ins and outs of text messaging like the back of my Motorola chocolate flip-phone. I like the efficiency of text-messaging. A <3 emoticon says all that I don't dare to say out loud. An image is worth a thousand roll-over minutes. And the magic of predictive text means I don't even have to think when I send a message to my roommate asking her "he you foot soccer cake?"

The text message is utilitarian and quick, and an important player in political controversy (see: South Carolina gubernatorial candidate's alleged textual encounters!). More text messages are sent each day than there are people on this earth-- and that's counting the homeless, illiterate, and otherwise disenfranchised and cell-phone less.

But, I wonder about the cost of cashing in conversation for convenience. What are the consequences of the text message's dominance over the spoken word? When we share only snippets of our thoughts, 140 pathetic characters at a time, what will happen to spirited discussion?

I fear that we are committing ourselves to a "silent" future. In my apocalyptic vision, dinner table debates about curfews and campaign finance reform are replaced by a few cryptic texts. Our pundits, our beloved "talking heads," are reduced to mere "texting entities." We become so dulled and brain dead that our hand-held personal electronic devices eventually overtake us, manufacture their own identities, and tyrannically rule humankind! Sort of like in I-Robot, except without Will Smith and all the slap-stick comic relief.

Worse, we risk losing what's best about America: freedom of speech. It's a well proven, or at least popular, adage that "if you don't use it, you lose it." If we don't exercise our first amendment right to talk out of turn, we may forfeit it entirely. Democracy is the fruit of lively and free-wheeling discussions, the kind a text message simply does not afford.

It's sad that this could be the legacy of our generation. I expected better, and for the record, so did Barack Obama. We're too young to already be tired of speaking. Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, worrying that the increase in messaging over phone calls forecasts a grim future for democratic life as we know it. And to be sure, all technological advancement isn't necessarily anti-social. There's no better way to meet predatory strangers or unknowingly share your personal information with corporations than on the Internet--just ask Mark Zuckerberg.

I have faith that when we start to miss the sound of human voices and long for the dial tone of days past, we'll pick up the phone again. At least, I certainly hope so, for the republic's sake.

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