Nicholas Covey, director of insights for Nielsen Mobile, attributed the spike in messaging to the spread of QWERTY-style keypads. QWERTY users send 54 percent more text messages than those with ordinary keypads. Phone companies have also encouraged users to text by offering large or unlimited text-messaging bundles.
Teenagers ages 13 to 17 are by far the most prolific texters, sending or receiving 1,742 messages a month. By contrast, 18-to-24-year-olds average 790 messages.
A study of teenagers with cell phones by Harris Interactive found that 42 percent of them say that they can write text messages while blindfolded. The one major health benefit of texting rather than calling is that it keeps the cell phone away from your head, and thereby may lower some of the health risks associated with cell phone use. However if you hold the phone near your waist instead of near your head, the risks are probably just moved to a different area of your body.
Of course, most people’s love for texting has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with convenience. I did not realize this until I spent some time with a physician friend last week but most people do not have 24/7 access to the Internet like I do.
Whenever I travel I have a Dell 13.3-inch notebook with an aircard that connects me virtually anywhere in the US, so when I am not at my home or office I always have Internet access and can easily email. However most people do not have Internet access like this so they are using texting as a simpler and more rapid alternative to emailing.
The air card in my notebook is essentially a cell phone and as long as one is a few inches away from it, it will not cause any more harm than using a cell phone by not holding it to your head and using the speaker phone function. Please also understand I do NOT have Wi Fi in my home or office nor do I advocate it. However, if a Wi Fi network is present and one has no control over keeping it on or off then it is not going to affect you anymore or less if you use it, unless you are uploading large amounts of data which is not the typical scenario.
Unlike email however, or any other communication form in history, texting allows you to cut directly to the chase, bypass the common pleasantries that define human relations and make up your own, abbreviated language so that you don’t have to be bothered with things like spelling, punctuation and grammar.
And therein lies the problem.
Texting may destroy the next generation's ability to communicate effectively due to poor spelling and “text-speak.” And while texting may help you stay superficially connected with friends and family, it can also lead to fewer in-person meetings and less time spent actually talking.
The risks of replacing face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice, communication with nothing but cold data are immense. Without face-to-face communication, the intimacy, nuances and interactive nature of conversations are lost.
Some linguists are also worried that the short-cuts used in text messages will encourage sloppy writing habits across the board among young people, and ultimately may impact kids’ ability to spell and write.
This is certainly true for email, and I am sure just about anyone reading this has made the mistake of communicating something by email that should have been done face-to-face or at least by phone.
Is Texting “Dumbing Down” Future Generations?
If texting continues to grow in popularity, it could have a detrimental impact on society. Take, for instance, a report by Ireland’s Education Department that reviewed high school students’ English test results.
"Text messaging, with its use of phonetic spelling and little or no punctuation, seems to pose a threat to traditional conventions in writing," said the report.
It went on to say that teens were "unduly reliant on short sentences, simple tenses and a limited vocabulary,” and many were “choosing to answer sparingly, even minimally, rather than seeing questions as invitations to explore the territory they had studied and to express the breadth and depth of their learning and understanding."
On the other hand, a report in American Speech concluded that, far from ruining language, texting represents "an expansive new linguistic renaissance,” and reflects “the same dynamic, ongoing processes of linguistic change that are currently under way in contemporary varieties of English.”
This will undoubtedly remain a hot research topic in the years to come, but I suspect that an over-reliance on texting will have disastrous consequences for future generations.
Why Else Can Texting be Dangerous?
On a more practical note, one way that text messaging is already proven to cause harm is by way of distraction. About 20 percent of drivers send and receive text messages while driving, according to a Nationwide Insurance study. Among those aged 18 to 24, the percentage jumps to 66.
As you might suspect, traffic accidents related to texting are on the rise, and although actual statistics are not yet available at least 16 states are considering legislation to ban texting while driving. Washington, California and New Jersey, meanwhile, have already done so.
So at the very least, it seems to be wise to refrain from texting while you’re driving. But it makes sense to limit your children’s and teen’s use of text messaging too, to be sure they’re able to communicate not just technologically, but also personally.