Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Time Has Come

WAY BACK in October, long before the above video went viral this week, I was thinking of writing a post on this topic, but I hadn't fully formulated my thoughts yet. I basically just put up an introductory video. I'm still not sure my thoughts are fully formulated, but this video has convinced me that the time has come to express them anyway.

I have been trying to decide if I am justified in my frustration with society's addiction to texting or if I'm just getting old and crotchety. I try to temper my opinions by trying to keep an open mind. For instance, as I have this internal debate I think about the advent of writing. I love reading, and I find books to be valuable beyond words (no pun initially intended), and yet the wise philosopher Plato wrote this about the invention of writing:
"The fact is that this invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written, calling things to mind no longer from within themselves by their own unaided powers, but under the stimulus of external marks that are alien to themselves."
Honestly, I don't think writing has harmed us but rather has been of great benefit (though writing can be used to incite war or to spread garbage as well). The instant communication we have today can be used to good purpose and bad also. So, I wonder, am I reacting to texting like Plato reacted to writing. Is texting really something more good than bad that will some day be taken entirely for granted and as a genuine boon to the good of society?

In my experience I've seen it to be convenient but certainly not necessary - in fact generally quite unnecessary to the point of being worse than frivolous and sometimes actually dangerous.

I think there is at least a two-fold problem. In part, people aren't wise about using this technology. Additionally it has become an addiction. The first thing MOST of my students do as they are dismissed from class - every class - every day - is check their messages, even if they've only been in class 45 minutes - and were outside class as I walked up texting right up until the time class started. Although I require cell phones to be put away during class, many students have them sitting out visibly on the desk anyway, in case a message comes through. Last year I had a student who absolutely freaked out in class because it was too quiet, and it made her feel disoriented and as if she didn't know what was going on. I think she was just so used to having the constant stimulation of ceaseless connection that it was like sensory deprivation for her.

I've gotten a number of emails recently to my work inbox from prospective students, whom I'd never met, wanting to be added to my class, and many of these messages have come to me in "text speech" combined with such poor structure that they are nearly indecipherable (and I'm pretty good at deciphering!). Do people think this is appropriate for official or professional communication? Do they know that it is extremely casual communication? Do they even know that other forms of writing exist? Are they able to write in other forms?

That's where I see and deal with it mostly, but, of course, I see drivers who are talking on phones or texting and weaving all over the road. The statistics are sobering:
Talking on a cell phone causes nearly 25% of car accidents.

For every 6 seconds of drive time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road. This makes texting the most distracting of all cell phone related tasks.

In 2008 almost 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured in crashes related to driver distraction.

Talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver's reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old.

Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated.

52% of 16- and 17-year-old teen drivers confess to making and answering cell phone calls on the road. 34% admit to text messaging while driving.

Each year, 21% of fatal car crashes involving teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 were the result of cell phone usage. This result has been expected to grow as much as 4% every year.

Despite the risks, the majority of teen drivers ignore cell phone driving restrictions.
So where do we go from here?

The woman pictured in the video was interviewed on the news later. She has hired a lawyer and is seriously considering suing the mall, first because because they posted this video, and it embarrassed her and, second, because "no one came to her aid" (um, she didn't appear hurt, and she got up so fast who could have gotten there on time anyway - and someone did come after the fact, which can be seen on this video, a maintenance worker walking by checked to see if she was OK). She concludes the interview by warning people that it is dangerous to walk and text at the same time. REALLY? It took falling into a fountain to figure that out?

Again, I ask, where do we go from here?

Can we use this technology as a truly good thing that is mainly of benefit? Can we learn from the accidents that have happened - from vehicular fatalities to falls into mall fountains - and turn this around? Can we undo the addiction and USE cell phones rather than having them USE us? Or is it just too far gone? Is there hope for this situation?

Here is the video I posted earlier:

The answer here is another phone.


Somehow I just don't think so.

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