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The importance of texting earnestly

February 23, 2011

Everyone has one, so I have to have one too!

I’ve found that life rarely requires our full attention. There isn’t a great need, for example, to interrupt my child’s constant connection to her Blackberry to say anything deeply meaningful, so it’s unusual for me to ask her, firmly, to pull the plug on whoever she’s texting and actually look at me while I’m speaking.

Up till now, she and I have negotiated the rocky terrain of technology’s demands fairly fluidly, mostly because back when she was 13, I learned to keep my mouth shut and only open it when she turned her gaze, like the glare of a lighthouse beam, towards me, indicating it was okay to speak.

Nowadays, though, because I could die any day, on occasion I do have something worthwhile to say. I just want to make sure I’ve taught her something more profound than “moisturize religiously.” In this past week, for example, an occasion arose when I was forced, by the gravity of the situation, to stop her from texting and Make Eye Contact. Let me tell you, tremors were felt in the ground between us. But she listened to my Speech of Great Import and we moved on.

This moment in time, however, reminded me of my ambivalence about how ubiquitous technology has become, and how impossible it is to be heard when you’re competing with text. I figure if we’re all wet-wired we’ll save a lot of steps, but technology hasn’t advanced that far, and so we have many years of social struggle to go through before we’ll know what someone on the other end of the bandwidth is thinking before they’ve even expressed it LOL OMG.

In that fragile adolescent moment when they begin to talk to you again (that’s if you play your cards right and keep silent for a few years) my daughter and I used to carry on entire conversations in text while out at dinner. Families can stay together now, thanks to texting. Unlike a generation ago, when a teenager (me) would have been sitting sullenly, internally crying out to the heavens at the injustice of being forced to eat dinner with her parents, now your child is free to mentally roam if you bore her too much or place excessive demands on his ability to tolerate mom or dad-speak.

In my day, the old lady intoned, we learned good manners and how to smile, all the while hating everyone at boring adult gatherings. Nowadays, teenagers no longer have to pretend they’re interacting with you at all. They can go off into the land of text, where all the good conversations occur, and shut you and your dismal world out entirely.

Now, you have to understand something fundamental to this rant: I’ve taught English 101 for many years, which means my students come armed and loaded with technology. Getting their full-frontal attention has become the battle of the century. I have had to build into my syllabus the commandment Thou shalt not text when thy teacher is teaching. Threatening their grade is usually sufficient to scare them, but not enough, I’ve found, to dissuade them utterly from the importance of texting.

I have been forced to be rude and say things like: “Are you a doctor with a woman in labor? An investment guru whose clients depend on your wisdom to get through the day? No? Then PUT DOWN THE DAMNED PHONE.” Very little intimidates these kids, either, so you can just imagine the level of ranting this has required in the past 10 years.

When cellphones became all the rage, I was still living analog. I didn’t catch up to texting until much later, and by that time, of course, children who were raised with cellphones glued to their ears had already switched over to texting as their primary mode of communication. Texting is so much easier than having a real conversation with someone, so you can see its appeal. It doesn’t require the ability to spell, so children gravitate towards it, since they’re typically not highly evolved spellers. And it relies on short bursts of thought, which is perfect for their level of cognitive development.

Their brains haven’t matured to the point where they can be expected to think elaborately, unless, of course, there’s some expensive garment hanging on a rack somewhere they want you to buy for them.

Did you know, by the way, that cellphones serve another use these days, for parents who aren’t allowed to shop with their kids? Your ambulatory child, divorced from the need for you, can send you a photo from their phone of what they want, and get your approval in text. You no longer need to interact with your kid personally, which is great if you’re really tired or busy. Eventually, of course, all you’ll have to do is input your eye scan into the store’s computer via some special buying-machine at home, and the purchase will be made. You’ll never have to leave home again to shop with your ingrate.

Common consensus: this is too young, right?

Meanwhile, though, if you’ve learned to function around it, it can seem entirely weird to have someone’s full attention. Texting children become texting adults. You see this all the time now: people of all ages gazing, mesmerized, into their Smartphones and Blackberries, carrying on entire LOL OMG conversations with their 18,000 Facebook friends. Who is getting their full attention?

What does that even mean anymore, when we have so many distractions tugging at us? Seems to me the old adage is even more true nowadays: the squeaky wheel gets the grease, which means it pays to be annoying, since that’s the only way anyone will listen to you. Nice people will be overlooked even more than they used to be. If technology teaches us anything, it is that we had all better get louder, otherwise, we’ll be drowned out and ignored.

I sometimes wonder how lonely we must have been as a species prior to this technology… what did we do with all that extra time before the advent of pocket-sized communicator devices? The thing is, I remember those carefree days of walking jauntily down a street, never worrying or wondering what some guy I’ve never met, was saying to some third person he’s never met, via a social network.

Here: because I believe in backing up my rants with some data to show I am not a complete lunatic, and to support my position, are links to data, and even more data. Go crazy.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Elinor permalink
    February 23, 2011 1:56 AM

    🙂 ily ma kthxbai

  2. February 23, 2011 6:42 AM

    I’ve always enjoyed the freedom of being able to go out the front door for a walk, or a day of gardening, and not have to take anything with me. I think that was the biggest reason I never tried smoking – I didn’t want to be tethered to a package of cigarettes. Same with cell phones. There is a time for walking or gardening and a time for talking (or texting). And they are not the same times.

    • February 23, 2011 8:50 AM

      When I can leave my phone behind, I am a happier person. Then I forget all about it, it runs out of a charge, and I’m left in the middle of nowhere with no phone. True story. It has happened more than once. You’d think I’d learn, but I am deeply resistant to change. 😉

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