The use of new communication technology that seems to puzzle so many people is the use of cell phones for texting. At the same time it is puzzling some, however, it has become an integral part of daily life for many others.
How widespread is it? Statistics show that nearly 70 percent of all Americans send at least one text a day. Nearly every teen who has a cell phone sends several texts a day.
Like all applications of the new media, texting is only as good or as bad as who is texting, why, and — especially for this application — when.
In many cases, when time is at a premium, people prefer to text short bursts than phone in a message. And texting is obviously a welcome phone format for voice-impaired users.
Other times, though, texting is not so great.
For example, just this week regulators have determined a text message probably cost 25 people their lives in a tragic accident in California.
That happened on Sept. 12, 2008, when a Los Angeles Metrolink commuter train carrying 350 people collided head-on with a Union Pacific Freight train at rush hour in the L.A. suburb of Chatsworth. Both trains were traveling aboout 40 mph on impact, twenty-five people were killed and more than 100 were injured.
An official 16-month probe of the cause of the accident pointed to the commuter train engineer’s text-messaging as the primary cause, as noted by the Associated Press this week. That engineer was one of those killed in the crash.
“Tragically, an instant message turned an ordinary commute into a catastrophe,” the AP was told by Deborah Hersman, chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board.
In short, according to the NTSB, the commuter train engineer was texting and missed a red signal, sending his train into the nose of the freight train.
As a result of the accident, regulators have banned cell phone use by in-service train engineers.
A more widespread misuse of texting, though, occurs among motorists who text while they drive. Statistics show as many as 46 percent of those drivers who text are teenagers, who of course are inexperienced drivers in the first place. Not surprisingly, many accidents have resulted from this hazardous multi-tasking.
From Texting to Sexting
Another tragic misuse of texting is one many parents fear as much, if not more.
It is the practice known as “sexting” when teens — and even pre-teens — text sexually explicit messages and photos or their nude or partially nude bodies to a boyfriend or girlfriend, only to have those photos redistributed to a much wider array of teens. Sometimes it’s done by the posting of those embarrasing photos on sites such as Facebook.
The humiliation resulting from these redistributions has caused at least two young girls to commit suicide over the past 12 months. Last September, 13-year-old Hope Witsell of the Cincinnatti area hanged herself in her bedroom after a topless photo she sent to a boy wound up getting much wider circulation at her school and another high school.
Last March, 18-year-old Jesse Logan of Hillsborough, Fla., killed herself when a nearly identical incident occurred. The only difference was that the boy who recirculated her photo was her ex-boyfriend, while Witsell sent her photo to a boy to get him interested in her. A third party, using the boy’s phone, saw the photo and sent it on to others.
In both cases, bullying and biting sarcasm from others at school proved too much for each girl, and they chose to end their lives rather than continue to bear the brunt of others’ scorn.
Some Teens Arrested
Something some teens don’t realize is that sexting is a felony in several states. Last week, three teenage girls and three teenage boys — all between the ages of 14-17, were charged in Pennsylvania with child pornography for the sending and receipt of sexual messages and photos. Similar charges are pending for other teens in Massachusetts and Wisconsin.
And the practice is not confined to just a few teens, either. The National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has reported that 20 percent of all teens have admitted to engaging in sexting. Other estimates push that to as high as 39 percent.
Next Up: A Lighter Look
Next time we’ll take a lighter look at how college students view texting , why they spend so much time with it, and at the new provocative meaning of that term has among so many young people.