The University of UtahRedthread Home

The end of civilization as we know it: text is a four-letter word

I’m old, not hip, and old school. I know all that. I still read print, for Heaven’s sake. I can use Facebook, but I decided what’s the point? after receiving a ping (or a poke or a wall scrawl) from a (real) friend who said, “and you’re not just emailing me because…?” I had no answer, let alone a good one. So yeah, call me one of those Neanderthals who just doesn’t ‘get’ it.

Here’s what I do get: total self-absorption.

Today’s example. Walking across campus, I encounter a young woman with ear buds in, phone in hands, head down, texting as she walks. Oblivious to her surroundings—which include a strong breeze coming up through the maples, perennials blooming in the median strip, bird song overhead, and me on the same sidewalk—she proceeds to text right into me. When I jump and wave my (print) newspaper “helloooo??,” she is startled all the way back from Sandy where her urgent communication was likely about something as vital as the color of tomorrow’s tank top. (I know. I’ve heard these youngsters talk to each other. “like he’s so sweet, he like called me last night like 9 o’clock and he’s like I’m so shy around girls and I’m like oh that is SO not true, like all the girls would just drop dead for you. Yeah he’s awesome. He’s just so sweet. Anyway like we talked for like three hours…Yeah.” Then they turned into the Chemistry building, saints preserve us.)

Thank goodness, it’s now illegal to text while driving. I once inadvertently followed a woman from the law school parking lot to about 39th south, and she didn’t stop texting during the 20 minutes we were on the same streets. I stayed behind her, so I’d know where she was on the road. The U of U College of Law Alumni plate cover—and her slow starts and random lane changes—made it pretty easy to keep an eye on her.

Take a look at the data yourself: http://www.psych.utah.edu/AppliedCognitionLab. It’s pretty tempting to rant about taking the next step and outlaw texting while walking (cycling, skateboarding, dining out, skydiving, making love, etc) but is there no common sense left? When did it become essential to communicate to someone every minute of every day? Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. (And as it turns out, it’s not just me who’s concerned:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/health/26teen.html?em).  Most of what passes for communication nowadays is just blather, and much of it is anonymous. If it’s important, take the time to sit down (pull over!), think about what you want to say, use just the perfect words, then actually talk to someone. Hell, you can use the telephone, but just not while you’re running breathlessly through the rest of your life as if you might miss something. I hate to say it, but you probably already have.

I rue the day when “I HEART U” will take the place of a hand on a cheek, pushing a soft brown curl behind an ear.