Connecting Through Text

As electronic devices become more sophisticated and easier to use, one form of communication, text messaging, is becoming more and more popular.

Cell phone users in the United States sent 110 billion text messages in December 2009 alone. That’s 10 times more than just three years ago, according to a survey by the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA). Researchers believe the numbers will keep growing at a staggering rate.

The benefits of sending short messages through a small hand-held gadget are numerous. “You just say whatever you want to say and not waste time over the phone. It’s quicker, it’s easier and you don’t have to disrupt other activities,” said OU student and Edmond resident Victor Haynes.

“CrackBerry” addictions and texting frenzies are making headlines not only in the United States but also around the world. In the city of Modena, Italy the Roman Catholic Church suggested a “texting-free Friday” as a way of fasting before Easter.

Texting has also been used for noble causes. People donated millions of dollars through text messages to victims of the Haiti earthquake.

It has also become an “official” sports discipline. This past January, the South Korea team won the Texting World Cup, a two-person speed competition. The U.S. team took second place.

“I think it’s a type of technology that’s impossible to put back in a box,” says Santa Fe High School principal, Jason Brown. “Here, we focus not necessarily on prohibiting it, but just teaching kids the way that’s appropriate and the way that it’s not. And trying to use the technology to our advantage.”

Brown says SFHS students are not allowed to use cell phones during instructional time. Students might use it inappropriately, like sending information about a test or assignment. “In other schools, I think they have bigger problems in the classroom because kids are sneaking to use them all the time because they are never allowed to use them,” he said. “Here they are allowed to use them several times a day so they won’t have to sneak.”

Texting has become so widespread that walking the fine line between using its advantages and overdoing it might be difficult. UCO student, Cameron Hacket said his 17-year-old sister once sent 6,000 messages in a month. “No matter what she’s doing, she’s texting all the time,” he said. “She is on her laptop while she is texting too. If she actually talks, she will have one conversation verses five or six that she has going on at once.”

However, there are serious risks when texting interferes with daily activities. TWD (texting while driving) is considered almost as dangerous as a DUI. A recent AAA poll shows people are aware of the risks of driving while texting but do it anyway. 95 percent said texting while driving was unacceptable behavior, yet 21 percent admitted to recently texting or sending an e-mail while driving.

“I ride a motorcycle and there has been more than one occasion when somebody cuts you off or goes right behind you. You look closer and see they’re texting and have no idea what’s going on around them,” said Philip Forbes, 23.

Often drivers who are texting exhibit the same signs of people who are intoxicated, said James Hamm, collision investigator with the Traffic Enforcement Division of the Edmond Police Department. “They veer off their lane; they have slow reaction times; they run lights and they run stop signs.”

In many states texting and talking on the phone while driving is prohibited, but Oklahoma is not one of them. Under the current law, drivers must devote their full attention to driving but a police officer can issue a ticket for violation only if an accident occurs. “At that point it’s too late,” Hamm said.

Some changes in that direction are already taking place on both the federal and state level. Recently President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting government employees from texting while driving. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry has implemented legislation that bans state employees and truck drivers to text on the road. 19 states and Washington, D.C. currently ban texting while driving for all citizens.

Many argue, however, that there is still certain controversy regarding text messages. While some people are LOL (Laughing Out Loud) while texting, others like psychology graduate student and Edmond resident Andrew Bedford, are concerned that language is becoming sterile, people are becoming isolated and the “art of conversation” is
being lost.

After all, “it is just another way of humans interacting with one another,” said Dr. Garry Steward, UCO sociology professor. “I think text messaging has actually increased the amount of interaction. Now you are populated by the thoughts of others in a way that we weren’t exposed to 10 years ago,” he said.

“Our biggest problem with text messaging is also the biggest benefit,” says Brown. “Communication and information spread so quickly with text messaging and unfortunately that may include inaccurate or negative information. There are so many advantages that could come from the technology if used appropriately. I think our focus should be more on appropriate verses inappropriate uses, and then how can we utilize the technology for education instead of trying to sanction it or limit it.”

Aside from being a source of distraction and spelling frustrations, the unlimited texting plan is like a highway without a speed limit. Decide for yourself 2 text or not 2 text, but OMG! Just be careful.

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