Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hold That Thought

I recently bought a new carrying “holster” for my Blackberry which makes it difficult to answer the phone or read emails while I am driving. The roads are no doubt a bit safer in northwest Houston these days, but I am definitely frustrated. It is amazing how hard it is to resist the little buzz sound that signals a new message of some sort. I feel like Pavlov’s dog being tempted by he laboratory bell. [Hold that thought while I check this…]

Apparently more and more people, especially teenagers, have thoroughly succumbed to the Pavlovian conditioning. A recent Houston Chronicle article piqued my curiosity and made me swallow hard (“Texting may be taking toll on teens” Katie Hafner, 5/31/09). Let me say first that I am not a big fan of these “Warning: Danger” type news items. I think they are often overblown. Still, this one struck a chord.

[Hold on, let me just tell this person I’ll text him back in a minute.] According to the Nielsen Co., American teenagers in 2008 received an average of 80 text messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier. Parents of teens who are used to seeing their beloved child with his nose in the phone 24/7 may think this number is on the low side. But it equates to 5 received texts per waking hour, and of course that doesn’t include responding to the messages. And wait! Why limit it to waking hours? Many teenagers leave their phone on at night and eagerly jolt awake to the sound of an incoming text. Hafner notes, “The phenomenon is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to anxiety, distraction in school (Gee, ya think?), falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation.” [Excuse me just a second. I apologize but I have to take this call.] At any rate, apparently one of the things driving this behavior among teenagers, according to psychotherapist Michael Hausauer of Oakland, CA., is that “they have a terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” One teenage girl whose parents finally reacted when she racked up 14,528 received texts in a month (30 per waking hour!) felt there was an element of hypocrisy in her parents’ punishment, declaring defiantly with hurt puzzlement in the way only a teenage girl can do, “My mother is always on her iPhone.”

I must say I see plenty of adult men and women at the gym carrying around their cell phones; they do a short exercise, check their phone, do another exercise, check their phone, etc. I wonder sometimes how they even manage to take a shower. [Let me just respond to this email quickly.] Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, so this isn’t as much a teenage issue as it is a people issue. What does this kind of all all-the-time, all encompassing technology do to the way we relate, converse, think, ponder, reflect, pray, relax, rest? What happens to the quality of our lives when we devolve to the attention span of a gerbil?

[Excuse me while I get this.] I for one decry this bondage to technological innovation and pledge that I will not succumb to this sad and silly status quo [bing, bing]. And I am worried [buzz, buzz] about our teenage children’s future [Hey honey, can I hit you back?] But I am glad I have prophetically sounded the alarm to you. And even a little proud that I managed to write this while driving. [Hello, Officer.]


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