Communication is the buzzword of our generation. Society, or so it seems to many, demands that we be constantly available, that anyone who needs to can reach us, communicate with us, no matter where we are or what we happen to be doing. Our world has become one where we are available, or at least reachable, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Those who are not, those who switch their telephone off or go offline, when using a computer, revert to some form of primeval being out of touch with the rest of the world.
This constant availability, the need to remain in touch at all times of the day and night, has brought a new form of addiction with it: an addiction to impersonal contact; an addiction to communication other than face to face; an addiction to texting, to sexting (text messages of a predominantly sexual and sexually explicit nature), to services such as Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook. It has almost created a younger generation incapable of speaking one to another, constantly checking their cell phones for new messages where those who are not available, who do not reply immediately to texts or, worse still, do not possess a cell phone, are outsiders. It is practically impossible to walk down any high street, to go into any store or popular restaurant and avoid people checking their cell phones, typing in messages, being distracted from life around them. When a cell phone beeps, rings or plays one of thousands of specially adapted tunes, countless people reach into their pockets, ignoring all about them, and check to see if it is for them, if someone is trying to contact, communicate, with them.
It has long been recognized that using a cell phone, especially when driving or even riding on a bicycle, is dangerous. It distracts from the task at hand and, through this distraction, can be a threat to not only the person controlling a vehicle, but also to everyone else in their vicinity. In many countries, the use of a cell phone, even the holding of it in your hand, whether it is actually in use or not, is an offense punishable with a fine.
Can texting be described as an addiction or is it merely a welcome distraction from other events, a sign of close friendship or availability for any eventuality? It is clearly addictive. Many telecommunications companies have recognized the potential of texting, attracting ever younger customers to their services, and offer telephone rates specifically for those wishing to text. A certain number of texts included in the basic price, a certain number of minutes online without extra costs right through to rates which boast unlimited texting. The boom in texting, in the use of smart phones capable of communicating through text or online as well as with the old-fashioned form of talking, has resulted in an overload to many telecommunication networks, with constant outages and service unavailability. New services, better cell phones, more and complicated access have done nothing to ease this situation, in fact quite the opposite, and have fuelled the rise in numbers of those texting.
Society sets certain restrictions on each and every one of us. There are times when it is considered inacceptable to telephone with someone else, when full attention to the task at hand is required and demanded. In school classrooms, in the work place, whilst driving, during times when we are with other people, enjoying a social event, a concert or visiting family. The text message seems to over ride these restrictions. Just a quick look to see if it is anything important, just in case, no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing. It only takes a moment. And then, even when it is the most banal message, a moment to quickly reply, rather than have the other person, the person sending the message, think they are being ignored. We are available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so an immediate reply is expected. The rudeness of interrupting a meeting, a gathering, other people enjoying a concert is less than the perceived rudeness of not replying to a text message immediately, and any message which follows it.
The signs of addiction are clear: a cell phone which cannot be switched off, just in case; a nervous twitch whenever a cell rings or beeps, even if it is not your own; constant checking to see if you have missed anything, if the cell didn’t ring or beep or, heaven forbid, someone in real life had distracted you enough that this ring or beep went unnoticed; a cell phone which is constantly within reach, on the breakfast table, the desk at work, on the table in a restaurant during dinner.
There are also physical signs of addiction: slightly malformed thumbs, something which used to be a sign that a person was constantly playing video games with a console and controller; difficulty in moving fingers, which can become cramped up against any other movement but that of typing into a small screen, on a miniature keyboard; lack of concentration to all that is going on around you right down to a slightly bent walking manner, brought on by constantly looking down at a small screen to read one text or another. In later years such addictions may bring short-sightedness, tired eyes which have concentrated so long on the cell phone screen they can no longer focus effectively on anything further than three yards distant.
Can texting really be described as the ‘worst addiction’? There are many different levels of addiction, many different forms of addict. Often it depends on the subject matter; a person addicted to chocolate, for example, is probably more socially unacceptable in polite society, or young society, than someone who constantly texts. A person addicted to pornography, regardless of its form or content, is more secretive and withdrawn. Someone who is addicted to texting, who cannot go more than a few minutes without checking to see if something new has been received or who, no matter when they last spoke to a person, feels the need to contact them again and again, is effectively withdrawn from society whilst, physically, still being present.
Texting can be described as the worst addiction simply because it removes a person from the reality around them; from the real society they are sharing with other real people, into a world where a few lines of text are far more important than conversation. It distracts from the pleasures of talking to other people. It disturbs, in certain circumstances, those around them. It leads, when there are no messages, to a feeling of desolation, to a belief that they are being ignored or cut off, to a feeling of intense frustration when a text sent is not replied to immediately. It replaces, in the worst cases, real life conversation. It can be highly dangerous, according to the situation, both for the person texting and for those around them. Texting is considered to be a social attribute where, in reality, it is an anti-social addiction which should be handled in the same manner as any other serious addiction, with care, education and understanding.
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