The Great Texting Debate

Sunday's Washington Post featured the story of 15-year-old Julie Zingeser, who managed to send 6,473 text messages in one month. Writer Donna St. George asks: is texting a new addiction plaguing the youth of America?

The Washington Post explores both sides of this issue, but by now, we are probably more familiar with the cons than the pros. There is the old grouse about text speak, emoticons and the decline of writing, along with other, more serious concerns:

There also are concerns about texting while driving, text-bullying and "sexting," or the term for adolescents messaging naked photos of themselves or others. What might have been intended for a friend can be widely distributed, and the texting of lewd photographs of minors can lead to criminal charges.

The American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial last year by psychiatrist Jerald J. Block, suggesting that addiction to the Internet and text messaging be included in the diagnostic manual for mental illnesses.

Sexting has proved to be a real problem lately, with teens nude cellphone pictures resulting in charges of disseminating child pornography. However, the question about online addiction seems even hairier. We're just beginning to come to terms with the idea of sex addiction (and many still wonder whether it a real addiction) so while it is not surprising that some feel addicted to the internet or texting -or their "crackberries" - it is still up for debate whether this should be classified as an addiction up there with "real" issues like alcohol or drugs. But, as Block points out, we won't know the repercussions of our texting tendencies for some time: "our use of technology today amounts to a large social experiment. We still don't know how it helps us or how it hurts us."

Fortunately, there is also a pro-side to this debate. Al Filreis, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that texting (and instant messaging/emailing) has caused student writing to improve rather than deteriorate:

"In writing, quantity tends to lead to quality," he said, "and we're doing quantity right now." Through texting and other instant communication, Filreis says, his students have learned hard-to-teach lessons about audience, succinctness and syntax. "My students are better writers than they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 25 years ago."

Others point out that texting can help create feelings of community and connectedness, bring parents and teens closer together. However, the overall tone of this article is rather alarmist, and seems to fall quite heavily on the cons-side. Filreis is the only expert quoted who believes texting may ultimately be good for teens, everyone else seems to think that texting is a symptom of our decreased attention spans (which may be true), our decaying family structure, and our crippling dependency on technology. But honestly, we're getting pretty sick of all the doomsayer prophesying. Texting is probably not going to destroy the grammar and moral fiber of an entire generation. IMing didn't, despite articles that claimed that abbreviations and emoticons popularized by instant messenger were "part of a continuing assault of technology on formal written English." Six years ago, the New York Times thought IMing could lead to a generation of anti-social, emotionally detached addicts. This brouhaha about texting is really just more of the same. So please, journalists, calm down, the kids are alright.

6,473 Texts a Month, But at What Cost? [Washington Post]

Related: What's The Right Punishment For Teen "Sexting"?