Friday, May 29, 2009

Its new so it must be dangerous!

There seems to be a strong tendency of humans to declare anything new to be dangerous. Whether it is ancient greek philosophers complaining about the dangers from reading or people complaining about the car ruining the teenagers of the 1920s, or modern day people panicing about predators on the internet. Each generation seems to latch on to the idea that whatever new is dangerous.

Still, the article in the New York Times about the dangers of text messages particularly hurts my head. I feel really sorry for the poor teenagers who will face the wrath of parents because of this horrible article.

Its basic idea is that being distracted this much by text messages must be damaging in some way. They say this despite admitting that there is no scientific evidence to suggest this is so. Particularly laughable is the following quote:

“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.”

The idea that teens should be trying to separate from their parents is of course quite valid. The idea text messages hurt this process is just silly though. I would guess one in two hundred text messages I have sent in my life have been to my parents. I would be shocked if I found a teenager who sends half of their text messages to parents. Text messages help with communication with peers far more than with parents, allowing much needed experience with building and maintaining social networks. I would go as far to state that those teens who text message more are likely to be those with better social skills.

The second idea though makes me wonder if the author has ever even seen a teenager. What the hell does teen development have to do with peace and quiet? Where did they manage to find any hint of scientific evidence for that silly idea? In fact text messages are much nearer the historic position of humans. One observation of primitive tribes is that they are in near constant communication with each other. As I discovered in my experiment last fall, without books, movies, the internet, and other modern distractions alone time goes from being an interesting diversion to just plain boring. Therefore in pre-literate societies people spend all their time communicating with other people. Just what text messages allow.

The article also spent a lot of time rambling about how they lead to a loss of sleep. This is an important issue. However to take this goal seriously is to realize that text messages are not the issue. The biggest threats to the sleep of teenagers are artificial lighting and alarm clocks. Following that we have anything that is more interesting than falling asleep, TV, Video Games, Books and so on. I would bet that a study on the biggest aspects causing teenagers to lose sleep wouldn't even put text messages in the top ten. Certainly it wouldn't compete with the horrors of early school hours.

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