Texting may harm thumbs and peace of mind

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.

Read the whole article here. See also Jonathan Zimmerman’s terrific op-ed, “Really living? Go offline.”

Comments

  1. tim-10-ber says:

    As one who has screwed up her thumb by becoming “advanced” at using the blackberry keyboard…this is very true. It is like a video game injury from the repetitive motion. Please warn the kids to be careful. I am trying to let my thumb be an example for my boys…cortizone shots I have been told will help when the pain gets too bad and then it will require surgery.

    Remind the kids to use predictor technology and that will help cut down somewhat on the use. Of course that assumes the kids are speaking English and not text.

  2. I’m glad that there’s no law (yet) requiring us to use texting. I hate the whole concept. I hate the whole “you must be available for the whims of friends, relatives, co-workers at all times” way of thinking. I hate the whole “squash every thought down into the minimal number of characters” requirement

    Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but 90% of what people say – at least in the cell-phone convos I’m forced to overhear on the train or at the grocery store – is utterly trivial. I can have a more interesting “conversation” in my own brain by myself.

    I hope that in the future, the mark of a “really important” person will not be that they are able to be consulted 24/7 but that they can unplug and go off and do stuff without people peppering them with inane questions at all hours. (Because then I will actually be a “really important” person.)

  3. See duz web mak us dumr?, which is about the impact of communications technologies on the way people think and perceive.

    Joseph Roth, writing about his observations in 1920s Berlin:

    “There are no more secrets in the world. The whispered confessions of a despondent sinner are available to all the curious ears of a community, which thanks to the wireless telephone has become a pack…No one listened any longer to the song of the nightingale and the chirp of conscience. No one followed the voice of reason and each allowed himself to be drowned out by the cry of instinct.”

  4. SuperSub says:

    Texting? The lack of ability to focus on one single task and be absorbed in it goes further back to infancy… where many parents delegate watching and playing with children to the TV.
    No matter how ‘smart’ they promise to make kids, my children will not see a lick of Baby Einsteins or even Sesame Street. Legos, clay, dolls/action figures, and coloring books allow the imagination to wander and the mind to ponder.

  5. “nonstop texting has brought distraction to a new level”
    OR
    rather has it elevated us by developed a connected, collective consciousness.

  6. “‘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?’”

    This is, of course, utter and rank nonsense. If we so prize teenagers’ developing independence from their parents, why not rail against cell phones? Against teenagers spending time with parents and living at home at all?

    Turkle’s complaint sounds indistinguishable from the complaints about new technology and cultural practice heard through the ages, from denunciations of the waltz in the 1700s to opposition to rock and roll to objections to radio and the VCR.

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    Yea, yea, yea. I remember when people proudly pronounced that they wouldn’t leave messages on their friends answering machines.