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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Do U Txt Msg 2 Much?

E-mail is the new "snail mail." And using cell phones to make actual phone calls is so 2005.

Receiving their AOL Instant Messenger screen names well-before their drivers' licenses, members of this generation have been raised accustomed to easily communicating with each other. E-mail used to be the gold standard, but even that became too slow to keep up with the fast-paced fast food-consuming lifestyles of the modern teenager. Then with the ubiquity of cell phones over the past decade, seemingly everybody could be reached at any moment of the day. But the hassle and formality of making phone calls have turned students off to their RAZRs.

Enter the text message. With the unmistakable hallmark of fingers furiously punching away on keypads, kids of the 21st century have been seduced by the allure of the instant communication of text messaging. About two-thirds of U.S. teens use text messaging, according to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project. The text message phenomenon has been wildly popular "across the pond" for years and only now has it taken America by storm, giving twentysomethings the opportunity to sound like a 13-year-old girl. OMG!

Sure, there are loads of benefits that come with the ease of text messaging: avoiding disturbing friends with phone calls at inconvenient times, being in constant contact with others, and the option to send random notes that do not deserve a phone call by itself ("My grld cheez looks lyk Jesus.")

Text messaging has become the "go to" way to reach Generation Y. In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy, several universities across the country followed Penn State in developing emergency systems that alert vulnerable students via text messages delivered directly to their purses or pants pockets. Staying true to his oh-so-hip persona, White House hopeful Barack Obama knows how to reach -- literally -- the youth of today. His presidential campaign boasts a text messaging service that transmits up-to-the-minute tidbits of news about the junior senator from Illinois to curious canvassers.

This generation's newfound reliance on text messaging simply feeds its addiction to its 21st century gadgets. In this age of instant communication and gratification, anxiety fills forever-wired students confronted with empty inboxes or spates of weak cell service. Tech-dependent kids even have given birth to the chronic condition of the "phantom ring" -- mistakenly hearing cell phones ring or feeling them vibrate. But cutting the bandwidth-induced umbilical cord is not always a bad thing. All too often, text messaging has devolved into just another distraction that egregiously interrupts daily lives. Do u txt msg 2 much?

There is a strange duality to students' love affair with being constantly connected. Technology has the obvious perks of bringing friends together, while at the same time, in other ways, it tears them apart. The art of conversation becomes lost amid the cold and impersonal nature of text messaging. Not all forms of communication are created equal. When text messaging goes beyond a few notes here and there and replaces more traditional ways of keeping in touch, it is a turn for the worse. Social and conversation skills suffer.

Text messaging seems like the polite substitute for answering phone calls at inopportune moments. It allows students to discretely respond to an urgent question and avoid rudely interrupting their conversations with an involved phone call. But forget Miss Manners. This well-intentioned move more than often devolves into a social faux-pas as one text message quickly turns into a drawn-out conversation via text while the dinner date across the table watches idly. Texting is the new "gateway drug." Know when to stop.

The best anecdote revealing the ridiculousness of this generation's often unhealthy relationship with technology comes from students guilty of DWT: driving while texting. A shocking 44 percent of U.S. teens text behind the wheel, according to a July 2007 American Automobile Association survey. Hoping to curb the dangerous practice, Washington last May wisely became the first state in the Union to criminalize DWT. Sending your friend a text message about the sign for the "World's Largest Hamster" tourist trap can wait until the next freeway exit.

Costing pennies to send usually vapid notes, text messaging gives new meaning to the phrase "talk is cheap." Ttyl.