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yoursignWe’ve seen this story before.

Alarm clock sounds off. Blurry-eyed and delirious, he reaches for a number-riddled contraption, scrutinizes, presses the button under “Disarm” and sets it down. He stumbles to his feet, waddles to the bathroom and closes the door.

Fifteen minutes later, Tex flings the door open. Shielded in only a towel, he charges toward the contraption, picks it up, scans, and sets it back down. He barely has on his boxers, socks and pants before charging to the mantle to check it again. His phone yields no new information.

Tex will check it again in 20 minutes, then another 15 minutes. Same results. He isn’t looking for a message in particular; it’s just a part of the daily routine. So in desperation, he sends out a group message to a few female “friends”:

“Good morning! Was just thinking of you. Have a great day.”

But he wasn’t thinking of you. And he doesn’t want you to have a great day. He just wants a response. And sure enough, he’ll get them in spades.

*******

In the halcyon days of commodity minimalism, more pleasure resided in the face-to-face chat, the telegram or later, a telephone conversation. A friend’s birthday was replete with an outing, a visit or at the very least, a congenial phone call.

Today, your cohorts are more likely to write on your Facebook wall or text you on your birthday. Welcome to the end of the 21st century’s first decade, where the sound of one’s voice is replaced with words across a digital format.

Through a medium once described to me by a friend as the “best thing since sliced bread,” people have taken to the brief written word to articulate their questions, statements, pejoratives and desires to one another. Its use doesn’t require much. All it takes is a willing participant and an excellent phone plan.

Of course, this is what original homo sapiens envisioned when they imagined a future where communication would be more efficient and effective. Where Alexander Graham Bell would bring the masses together in a more instant fashion than a telegram. The rotary phone wasn’t enough. Cell phones that performed the essential duty of placing and ending phone calls on the go weren’t enough. Right before the 21st century, before the advent of the iPhone, came text messaging.

And its overuse has wreaked havoc ever since. My friend was highly mistaken: It is not the greatest thing since sliced bread.

*******

Can your next “LMAO” while driving endanger fellow drivers? Certain members of Congress think so.

In the last two months, the New York Times have launched a series of stories discussing legislators’ focus on eliminating Texting While Driving (TWD). It’s already banned in the ultra-conservative Utah (the same state that banned Brokeback Mountain, mind you):

Studies show that talking on a cellphone while driving is as risky as driving with a .08 blood alcohol level — generally the standard for drunken driving — and that the risk of driving while texting is at least twice that dangerous. Research also shows that many people are aware that the behavior is risky, but they assume others are the problem.

In January, a teenager sent over 14,500 texts. Chris Brown’s last night as a celebrated singer began with a routine glazing of a text message. Parents are fighting technology for their kids’ attention, with one father, in Heathcliff Huxtable-like fashion, eliminating phones from dinner time.

It’s no secret why lawmakers are seeking to curb America’s texting fetish. But is it too late?

*******

When an issue hits the news, it’s generally always too late. The ubiquity of text messaging is now being attacked from a legal standpoint, but its social effects have been a bane for too long.

It’s intent isn’t totally insidious. The ease of “talking” to a person without actually having to talk to them is a convenient thing. It’s the abuse of the convenient that lends to the problem. Like the word “swag” or proclamations of Jay-Z as the god of hip-hop, text messaging is tired.

To wit:

Misunderstanding the message somebody is sending is too common.

If you’re conversing at length, then you’re more than likely going to get a grossly inaccurate picture of someone.

It lessens the interpersonal component of human interactions. How many people actually laugh out loud when they send its acronym? It’s a joke.

It encourages less-than-proper grammar. This isn’t elitist, this is fact. Truncating speech to save time is one thing; creating incoherent jumble as another language is another. “Greatness is what is for you. Don’t be a hater” turns into “gr8ness iz wat iz 4 u. dnt b a h8tr.” Between text messaging and Twitter, the English language has been set back 50 years.

And lastly, it is disturbingly addictive. You’ve probably LOL’d at somebody in the last 15 minutes.

It requires relatively little effort or use of the senses. Whereas face-to-face interactions necessitate multiple sensory uses, texting desensitizes, stunting the development of one’s communication skills.

Communication is not a leisurely hobby. It’s a Hobson’s choice, a task we perform whether we enjoy it or not. Performing it well is totally separate from merely performing it.

A positive: People get to sort of recreate themselves as superheroes through the textual medium. One can sound like John Kennedy or Casanova through the adroit movement of their thumbs. It’s all good when texts are flying in and out the phone, but what happens with it’s time to put down the phones and entertain each other through…physical presence? This may be daunting, especially if you can’t live up to the persona presented in your “lyrics.”

Seductive, easy and lazy, thumb-typing facilitates the social process, but ironically, its effects are anti-social. Like anything that’s abused, texting has numbed the human psychology to the point where its usage is indifferent of the threat to physical safety and oral development.

Just the other day, there was a man riding a bicycle with no hands. One hand was thumbing a text, and the other was holding what looked to be a 5-month-old baby.

Believe me? Maybe not, but I imagine picturing that won’t be too hard for you.

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  • Neno

    I am a texting addict. While I probably send less than 15 messages a day, I remember a time not too long ago when I preferred to talk on the phone (Back then there were few cell phones with keyboards so it was easier to call someone up)

    Now I am finding it more and more awkward to call someone and talk for more than 10 minutes.

    Perhaps we could all try a Text and I daresay a Twitter/Facebook free day. Technology is good but I would like to take some time to get back to the basics.

  • Wow! I finally got a moment to read this. I regret taking so long, Zettler. I definitely enjoyed it. :-)