Friday, October 24, 2008

Text Messinging Gone Wild

Let me begin with a true story.

A friend indicated that his daughter, attending a university here in Missouri, had 9000 text messages for one month and his bill for the text messaging alone was hundreds of dollars. Being a person of some life experience and of a curious nature he decided to investigate and to work something out with his cell phone carrier. In his conversation with the carrier not knowing what had happened (the charges were eventually dropped and text capability to his daughter's cell phone was disabled) he was able to get transcripts of the calls which were done mostly in class at university and mostly with friends who were in the class sitting next to her or in some close proximity. In other words many members of the class were text messaging each other.

Here are some excerpts from the transcripts of the calls he was able to procure from the cell phone company. Most of the messages where of this ilk:



"What ya doin?"

My gosh, the elequence, the profound erudation of these young scholars as they indulge in their scholarly discourse.

Most of the messages to and from people she could have literally reached out and touched. So, 9000 text messages in thirty days works out to 300 text messages a day. His daughter was sending or receiving an average of 300 text messages a day. The interesting thing is that his daughter is not an isolated case.

There are some students where I teach that I literally never see without their cell phone. I am not exaggerating for rhetorical purposes or to make a point. They always have their phones out. Walking in the hallways, in class, wherever I see them. I think they have become expert at memorizing the keyboards and will look at you and talk while "participating" in class - all the time texting. Last year I went to a performance of a Chinese acrobatic troupe at Truman State University. As the lights dimmed spread across the large auditorium was the soft comforting green glow of cell phones. Many students text messaged there way through that performance.

Several times I have been driving and seen two people in the car, often couples, and both of them on cell phones. While driving. Besides a bike I drive a mini van and it sits high. When I drive it I can see lots of stuff from way up high in the drivers seat and I see people text messaging all the time while they drive.

Last week I was driving home on my bike when one individual pulled out in front of me twice. The first time she pulled into a four lane highway from a side road at Reactor Field at the University of Missouri, and then in front of the stadium complex she cut left into my lane to make a left turn. She did not see me. She was text messaging. It was getting dark and I could see the glow of her phone and her fingers feverishly moving across the keyboard. She had her right hand with the cell phone resting on the steering wheel and her head was inclined toward it. Not the road. So, she could have killed me two times. Killed the father of four kids because she was text messaging on the telephone having some inane pseudo conversation with acquaintances. What saved me is that I assume everybody is text messaging and will pull out in front of me.

As a young man I was lastingly influenced by the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. In that book he talks about taking a friends motorcycle into a motorcycle shop. Here is the beginning of that particular story:

'The shop was a different scene from the ones I remembered. The mechanics, who had once all seemed like ancient veterans, now looked like children. A radio was going full blast and they were clowning around and talking and seemed not to notice me. When one of them finally came over he barely listened to the piston slap before saying, "Oh yeah. Tappets."' (Pirsig)

The mechanics were distracted and working on motorcycles, what should have been their primary concern, was secondary to socializing and listening to the radio. In modern parlance they were multi-tasking.

As it turned out the repair job was botched, the motorcycle left in worse shape than it came in, and actually seized (a dangerous maneuver on a motorcycle to say the least), a few weeks later. To this day inattentiveness and horseplay in a place of business where I am buying some good or service will cause me to leave.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not a work of fiction. So, Pirsig began to wonder what could have caused it. What caused the mechanical work done to his friends BMW to be so slipshod?

"Why did they butcher it so? These were not people running away from technology, like John and Sylvia. These were the technologists themselves. They sat down to do a job and they performed it like chimpanzees. Nothing personal in it. There was no obvious reason for it. And I tried to think back into that shop, that nightmare place, to try to remember anything that could have been the cause." (Pirsig)

I have never forgotten this incident from the book and to this day am alert to the danger of carlessness and inattentivness to task. He concludes:

"The radio was a clue. You can't really think hard about what you're doing and listen to the radio at the same time. Maybe they didn't see their job as having anything to do with hard thought, just wrench twiddling. If you can twiddle wrenches while listening to the radio that's more enjoyable.

Their speed was another clue. They were really slopping things around in a hurry and not looking where they slopped them. More money that way...if you don't stop to think that it usually takes longer or comes out worse.

But the biggest clue seemed to be their expressions. They were hard to explain. Good-natured, friendly, easygoing...and uninvolved. They were like spectators." (Pirsig)

The parallels are amazing. In many ways many, if not most, of my students are spectators to their education. They too are usually "... good-natured, friendly, easygoing, and uninvolved." They are not hostile to technology but for them it is a diversion. They are consumers of education rather than involved in a process. They are the result of the commodification of education into just another good and service.

I am more afraid of careless and inattentive people than I am of mean people. I can generally avoid the mean person or where they congregate. Generally mean people, criminals and the like who are out to purposefully hurt you, are relatively rare and you see them coming. Careless and inattentive people are all around us. They kill lots of people, cause untold grief, and trillions of dollars worth of damage. They are nice. They are friendly, and they are easy going. They would like to send you a text message.

Texting While Driving

Brittany Spears Caught Texting While Driving


Tonight I picked up my daughter from a birthday party and stopped into the local Schnucks store.

There was a moonlighting policeman, a man, acting as security. Guess what he was doing? Texting. That reminded me of two weeks ago when I went to Daniel Boone Regional Library and again a police officer, this time a woman, spent the entire time I was there texting on her phone. So, this bad habit of texting while you should be doing something else is not confined to the young.

So is text messaging addictive?

"The Priory Clinic, one of Britain’s best known psychiatric clinics and a respected authority on addiction, announced Monday that there has been a huge rise in technology-related addictions recently, and in particular, addictions to text messaging and internet surfing."

Is it addiction or just irresponsible behavior? I think irresponsible behavior. So, if your sitting in class, driving, or being paid by a local business to act as security why not be responsible and do the right thing. Pay attention to what is in front of you. Pay attention to what it is that you should be doing.

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