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Excessive texting has expenses beyond whatever fees show up on your phone bill

Call me a relic, but I'm still a little uneasy about texting. I admit it's a handy tool to use to send a greeting or a quick bit of information; a few taps, and you've bridged a communication gap.

But I have to wonder: At what cost?

For one thing, these little messages aren't free. Either you pay by the message—usually 15 or 20 cents each—or you buy a plan, anywhere from $5 to $100, depending on what is bundled together. This can add up to a tidy little sum.

The debate rages on about texting while driving. Are laws that restrict texting examples of The Man invading our privacy? Some say yes. But is texting while driving dangerous? Many say it is. But no one really gets to the heart of the matter: What's so darn important that it can't wait a few minutes for you to either pull over or arrive at your destination? Finding out what a friend is doing is not more urgent than steering a 4,000-pound, fast-moving machine.

Another concern is that constant, instant communication can become an addiction. We've all heard the expression, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Well, it seems that the absence of texting makes the hands grow jittery.

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent study from the University of Maryland's International Center for Media and the Public Agenda found that removing social media and cell phones from college students for a day resulted in "withdrawals in terms similar to those used by drug and alcohol addicts." (For details on the study, visit withoutmedia.wordpress.com.)

One student wrote: "Texting and IM-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. Although I go to a school with thousands of students, the fact that I was not able to communicate with anyone via technology was almost unbearable."

Students from my generation and earlier made it through college without cell phones, iPods, the Internet, e-mails, texting and Facebook. Yes, these technological advances have made life easier, but it's a dangerous thing to become reliant on them for emotional and social survival.

The easing of standards is also a byproduct of texting. When I do text on occasion, I sometimes go against my own practices and abbreviate to save key strokes: R instead of "are"; U instead of "you"; 4 instead of "for." The little voice in my head says, "That's not proper English." But these abbreviations are the texting norm.

I cringe when I see kids texting with abandon. I wonder if their English skills will be affected. Will they know how to spell "sincerely" at the end of a business letter? And better yet, will they ever write an actual letter?

It seems that with our abbreviated and instant communication, letter-writing is a lost art. Today, we mail fewer letters, bills and other items. I remember writing letters—to a friend in the same town, to a classmate in Japan—to provide an update on what was new. Writing on those little flowered pieces of paper was a simple pleasure.

With letter-writing becoming a quaint exercise, I lament the loss of love letters. I found a list of text-messaging and chat abbreviations online and was horrified to see abbreviations for "I love you." Forget looking into the eyes of your beloved and hearing the lilt in his or her voice. Instead, just look down to that little shiny screen and press a button. How romantic.

What's even worse is that people actually break up by text message. Even Carrie Bradshaw's Post-it breakup in an episode of Sex and the City is better than that. But I guess social etiquette has taken an overall beating. After all, people are fired by e-mail these days.

I'm not completely against texting. It's nice to see what a friend or family member has to say. It's useful when you need to communicate and don't want to call someone—like a co-worker at dinner time.

But excessive texting is creating some issues—dangerous driving conditions, the butchering of the English language and people dependent on instant communication to feel secure.

As with many things, moderation is important. Those little keyboards need not wield so much power.

More by Irene Messina

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