When I returned home for Thanksgiving break this year, I decided to work at a specialty store that I had been employed at throughout high school and during portions of the summer. I figured with the holiday shopping season just beginning, my former employer might need an extra hand — even if it’s only for two days.
As I started to ring up a costumer during one of my shifts, I couldn’t help but notice that she was texting on her cell phone. Usually this action wouldn’t bother me, but I grew more frustrated with the situation as the customer spent our entire interaction texting. While I think texting at a register is an incredibly rude gesture by itself, the most startling aspect of this interaction was that this costumer appeared to be roughly 14 or 15 years old. Maybe I’m having a memory lapse, but I can’t remember being as obsessed with texting when I was her age.
This encounter made me reflect on my personal experience with texting and also reminded me of a CNN article I read earlier this semester that summarized a study on cell phone usage as well as text message practices among different age groups. The October 2010 study by The Nielsen Company analyzed roughly 60,000 individual cell phone bills as well as survey results from 3,000 teens throughout April, May and June. The results noted that text messaging has been increasing rapidly — specifically among teenagers. Individuals ages 13- to 17-years old are reported to be sending or receiving approximately 3,339 text messages each month. Nielsen noted that this is an 8-percent increase in the age group from last year. Comparatively, Nielsen found that 18- to 24-year-olds send or receive approximately 1,630 texts per month.
If those findings weren’t startling enough, Nielsen also noted, “all of this texting activity has come at the expense of voice.” In Nielsen’s study and analysis, it found that “voice activity has decreased 14 percent among teens.” The study also discovered that there were many reasons for the trend toward texting, including 22 percent of teens who find texting easier and 20 percent of teen respondents who found texting to be faster than a traditional phone call. The CNN article remarked that the findings from this study imply that “texting is a more important means of communication than ever.”
While these numbers are certainly astounding, my initial reaction was an overwhelming feeling of fear. How is it possible for teenagers to maintain relationships and build their interpersonal skills if they are fixated on text messages? The findings from the Nielsen study left me wondering whether teenagers might suffer in the long run due to their apparent obsession with texting. And based on this appalling amount of text messages, I think it’s possible that there might be larger consequences for teenagers. If teenagers are constantly voicing their thoughts, feelings and opinions through text messages, aren’t they losing, or failing to strengthen, their abilities to communicate over the telephone — or even worse, in face-to-face situations? Though it may seem obvious, the ability to communicate well over the telephone is an important skill to have. With this increasing reliance on texting, I fear teenagers may be losing this ability.
There are also some concerns about spelling — if students are always relying on abbreviations of words, then does their traditional spelling deteriorate? That’s an important skill, too, and a potential consequence that can’t be ignored.
Of course, this is my opinion about the potential consequences of texting, but this result seems plausible. My reaction may be rash and extreme, but I can’t help but be worried about this becoming a future dilemma.
Even though I am in a different age group and grew up at a time when texting wasn’t as prevalent, I know I’m no better than these teenagers. I rely on texting as a form of communication, too — but I didn’t send and receive more than 3,000 texts when I was 13 years old. I don’t know if there is a solution to the growing trend of text messaging among teenagers. I believe, based on this evidence, that it may continue to grow in the future. But I do think parents need to make sure their children aren’t failing to focus on their verbal and interpersonal communication skills, because not everything in their futures will be communicated through T9 Word.
Laura Veith is a senior editorial page editor.