The text message turns 20 this month, and Katie from Jezebel posts a defense of the technology, in response to a certain breed of haters known as “old fogeys”. These are people who are always concerned that Youth Today are, in thrall of new technologies, missing out on some crucial part of life that they, the old fogeys, were exposed to, making old fogeys wiser, kinder, and more well-rounded. Old fogeyness is a hard temptation to resist. We see teenagers and the barely-adult, with their lithe bodies and boundless energy, and we want to make some argument that we’ve got a leg up on them in some abstract moral sense. This is an urge that should be resisted. It may make you feel superior temporarily, but in the long run, you end up sounding like one of those 50s-era preachers who went on the rampage against rock-and-roll cuz sex.
Katie correctly loves texting for making it easy to stay in touch without disrupting your day, for the way you can use it to send images, and for its multiple person chat functions. She quotes the inevitable people who believe that this is all a sign that Youth Today are in moral decline:
People love to complain about how texting has obliterated face-to-face communication and replaced thoughtful language and real emotions with acronyms and emoticons. Every few months, a new article comes out about how constant text-based communication is making us lonely or even driving us insane. “My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done,” Sherry Turkle wrote last spring in a New York Times piece called “The Flight from Conversation. “We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being ‘alone together.’ Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be.” Think that’s depressing? You haven’t even heard about the 16-year-old boy she talked to who “relies on texting for almost everything” and said, wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.” Dark.
Ladies and gentleman, I am a bit older than Katie—old enough, in fact, to remember when old fogeys, as opposed to worrying about young people not conversing, were instead accusing us of talking too much. I know! When I was in high school and college, the big debates were over allowing teenagers to have second phone lines (remember those?) and even cell phones. Old fogeys also made fun of teenagers, especially girls, for spending all their time hanging out with their friends and the mall, jabbering away at each other in endless conversation. Movies made fun of teenagers for all their yapping. Parents yelled at you to get off the phone. A major complaint was kids today didn’t spend enough time with the written word. We were constantly told to put the phone down and read something or, god forbid, write a letter.
Now communication has shifted back again to majority written word, and the concern is that we don’t spend enough time yapping. The only constant here is that whatever young people are doing, it’s morally perilous.
What’s ironic in all this is that text messaging is so awesome it lays bare what is a major drawback of spoken conversation: The amount of frippery in it. With text messaging, there’s no need to patter for a few minutes about how someone is doing (well), what you’ve been up to lately (which rarely changes), and how your S.O. is (the same) before you start to talk about something you actually give a fuck about. And, as Katie points out, texting can actually involve you in someone’s daily life in a more meaningful way, especially when you send images. My mom is often asking me what I think about a new home improvement option on text. I send my boyfriend pictures of the cats doing stupid stuff. With the formality removed, interactions are often closer to what they’d be in you were sitting in the same room with someone. And what’s more intimate than that? (No wonder so many people use it for sexual gratification.)
TL;DR: Shut up, fogeys. We’re on to your game now.