The Texting Drug
by Eric Bergeson, August 11, 2010
As more people discover how to send text messages on their ever-present cell phones, we have become a nation of hypnotized zombies who stare into our phones while we drive into telephone poles, walk into trees, wander into fellow pedestrians, jam up traffic in the cereal aisle and generally tune out to what is going on right in front of our noses.
Who ever thought that our culture would be taken over, not by robots, not by the Russians, not by rock and roll, but by little hand-held walkie talkies that send written notes of no more than 140 characters in length.
It’s as if we've collectively returned to fifth grade when we learned the joy of passing notes.
Oh, to get a folded up note! A message from an oracle!
A note passed in class was magical. It was concealed. It was secret. As you opened it, you dreamed of the possibilities inside.
The content always disappointed, of course. The message was meaningless, stupid or incoherent.
But for that moment when you held the note, knew it was meant for you and you only, a special drug took effect.
That drug is hope, for it is always possible that an unopened note might contain the evidence you crave that you are special, loved, complete and whole.
The fifth grade notes always fell short, but enough of the hope drug lingered in the body that the over-all experience was pleasurable. The next note was welcomed with the exact same exhilarating sense of unrealistic expectation.
Like lab rats pressing a bar to get their pleasure zones zapped again and again, even at the expense of food, water and safety, people are now passing notes to each other while thousands of miles apart. Or while in the same car.
Did we think it could get worse than people talking on cell phones everywhere?
It just did. People now talk with their thumbs.
Actual cell phone conversations, even though they distract drivers and leave them sitting at stop signs while everybody else waits for them to go, still allow people to use their eyes.
Cell phones used in restaurants for gag-inducing conversations about Grandma's colostomy, Ellen's weight issue or the dog's ear infection are merely rude.
But text messaging, although bystanders are spared the agony of hearing the message out loud, occupies both eyes, both hands and all of one's attention.
The people standing right next to you are left to wonder if you even know they are there. When the oracle from beyond issues a message of less than 140 characters, everything stops.
Nobody seems to mind the tremendous inefficiency of talking with one's thumbs. Sending little text messages takes time, especially for older folks like myself who were taught to type using all of our fingers.
Nobody seems bothered when people tune out mid-conversation to smile at their phone, happy as a fifth grader who just got a note that not-so-incidentally, the person next to them did not get.
Nobody seems to mind that the problem of people tuning out to text is literally taking lives on our highways.
Text messaging triggers the production of a powerful drug by our glandular nodes that overrides all other concerns.
It is the same drug that makes unopened Christmas gifts under the tree more thrilling than the disappointing box of junk you take home after the gifts are opened.
It is a drug produced by hope that an oracular message from beyond will finally soothe the unbearable anxieties of existence.
As with all drugs, we love to deny their pernicious effects. Texting is “more efficient,” people say.
Efficient? Try going through the same revolving door as somebody who is trying to finish up a text message.
The reason people insist texting is more efficient is it doesn't require the hassle of clumsy social conventions like saying hello and goodbye.
Texting doesn't require that you look a person in the eye.
No wonder 20-something lovebirds now break up with each other by text message.
Text messaging is one more way machines have drained the blood from human communication.
Yes, we can be in constant touch with everybody. Yes, we can get magical messages from beyond. Hundreds per day!
But to the extent we prefer oracular machine messages to face-to-face human communication, we set our physical, emotional and mental health aside in favor of a pernicious drug.