According to the New York Times, teenagers sent an average of 80 text messages a day in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Peter W. Johnson, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington, is concerned that “too much texting could lead to temporary or permanent damage to the thumbs.”
But the troubles do not stop at the pollex. Texting may interfere with a young person’s ability to think and act independently. Says psychologist Sherry Turkle, director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at M.I.T.:
“Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be,” she said. “Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”
Psychologists expect to see teenagers break free from their parents as they grow into autonomous adults, Professor Turkle went on, “but if technology makes something like staying in touch very, very easy, that’s harder to do; now you have adolescents who are texting their mothers 15 times a day, asking things like, ‘Should I get the red shoes or the blue shoes?’ ”
As for peace and quiet, she said, “if something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes, it makes it very difficult to be in that state of mind.
This is no surprise, nor is the loss of quiet new. In 1931 Irwin Edman wrote, “The capacity for absorption has vanished, largely because, especially in America, the contemporary lives, to put it briefly, in cities and among words. He has both too little time for that steady contemplation which is an absorption in the world and in things; he has too many odds and ends of time for brooding, for the internal canvassing of his own doubts and insufficiencies” (The Contemporary and His Soul, p. 43).
But nonstop texting has brought distraction to a new level. There is the appearance of silence (teens text furtively, as the article points out), but blinks and vibrations alert them constantly to new updates, new messages, new replies to their last reply.