According to Nielsen, American teenagers send and receive, on average, 2,272 messages per month. This equates to nearly 80 messages a day. In fact, text messaging is so popular that in North America (as of 2006), 40% of cell phone users actively use SMS. In Europe the average is 85%. Throughout the world, the use of text messaging has developed very rapidly. In 2000, 17 billion text messages were sent. By 2004, that number reached nearly 500 billion, that’s almost 85 text messages per person in the world.
The popularity of text messaging has placed people in positive and negative situations. For example, former Detroit Mayer Kwame Kilpatrick had his whole life turn upside down through a text messaging sex scandal. He went from being the youngest to the only mayor to be charged with a felony in Detroit. On the positive side, text messaging is utilized as a source of information and reminders. Many credit card companies provide SMS reminders on upcoming due dates. With the increased popularity of cell phones with internet capabilities, people would be able to pay their bills upon receiving the alert. In addition, one can send a text message to Google to find out directions, weather, flight status, sports scores, etc. Services like ChaCha allow us to answer any of our questions. All you do is send a question to ChaCha and a live person will send you a message back, within a few minutes, with the answer to your question. However, these convenient services, as well as general text messaging, have its outcomes.
Many experts agree that text messaging has served more bad than good, especially to the teenage population. There are obvious safety concerns, especially with recent proposals to ban text messaging while driving. This obviously creates a distraction to drivers, putting other drivers and pedestrians at risk. Even while walking, people have most of their attention to typing their messages, instead of what’s ahead of them. Especially in busy places, I’ve noticed people still don’t pay attention. The other day I was walking by Times Square and got very annoyed at people who suddenly stop in the middle of the sidewalk to finish a message. That, and a combination of tourists, makes Times Square a trap.
Teenagers are easily distracted at school. Instead of paying attention in classes, students are texting away. I’ve seen this happen a lot in college. Especially in high schools, this leads to falling grades, and poor report cards. Some kids are up late messaging their friends, which experts believe could have a significant impact on sleep. I’ve seen a lot of people struggle in college because they use their phones so much. I think this is because when you send a text message, it is likely that you are in the middle of a thought. Thus, a response means the inclination to respond right away, distracting you from other things (studying). I saw this happen at my school library all the time. Especially during finals, it would take forever to find a table. It’s really frustrating when people take up study space but just sit there typing on their phones. During group projects, there is always one kid who keeps pulling his or her phone out to send a message. This creates a huge distraction from work and has significant impacts. I’ve also read articles that provide cases of students using text messages to cheat. Even though teachers and professors state not to bring phones to exams, they never enforce the rule.
I would think that increased cellular phone use, especially for text messaging, could have negative effects for your hands. The concept of texting is similar to typing, which has proven to cause problems for many. Although text messaging is not as comprehensive as using a computer keyboard, the increased usage may still be enough to cause musculoskeletal disorder. However, data is very limited on this subject.
What about the use of the English language? One would think the use of abbreviations, short messages, and incomplete sentences could lead to sloppy language skills. Although text messages are brief, they are sent so many times that in aggregate, it could have an impact in linguistics. Many experts feel this way; however, others present an interesting counter-argument. Text messaging may not be all that bad. Some experts add that the use of abbreviations is a novel way of communication that demonstrates dexterity and creativity. This method of communication expands our language capabilities and demonstrates ingenuity. There are cases in which people catch themselves using “text message lingo” in academic papers, while causing no harm for others.
I’ve noted a few ways in which text messaging benefits individuals. One other way is that this method of communication connects people. Many people are in constant contact with each other. They develop a strong interest to know what’s going on in people’s lives and share information that they wouldn’t otherwise. Some conversations, or at least topics of discussion, would never arise in direct dialogues. Sometimes it’s because we’re too scared or forget later on. There are other situations where sending a text message may be more appropriate then conversing on the phone (in a quiet public place). Thus, it adds a lot of convenience and doesn’t distract others.
I have mentioned many ways in which text messaging harms human beings. I’m fully aware that these interpretations are only valid with credible data and statistical analysis. However, the rise in text messaging is a recent phenomenon, and not enough data is available to construct definitive conclusions. Many experts have developed a number of hypotheses that they hope to test in the near future. I’ve come across a few studies, but found a lot of flaws that lead to inaccurate justifications. Some studies sample just a few students from one specific high school, which leads to invalid results. I chose not to share this data or conclusions for these reasons. For a future study, it would be interesting to stratify data by type of cell phone (compare regular phone vs smart phone and see if there is a significant difference in effects – whether positive or negative).