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September 24, 2008

Walk On, Young Texter

Ah, the worries of modern life: terrorism, global warming, computer viruses, mortgage-backed securities, and, of course, text messaging. Apparently every teenager's favorite form of communication (according to Nielsen Mobile, the average high-school kid sends or receives 1,742 texts per month. That's 57 per day. Call us old farts, but what the fuck?) is responsible not only for making the number 8 into a letter and the letter u into a word, but for stupidity and death. This is according to the New York Times.

texting while driving

Better to text while walking than while driving.

The Times quoted Paul Saffo, a "technology trend forecaster," as saying that "the act of texting automatically removes ten IQ points." Curious as to whether Saffo actually sat people down in a lab and made them text while hooked up to brain-scan machines or something, we asked him about this. Saffo replied that his statement was "rather misleading" and that 10 was "not an empirical number, but just a figure of speech to underscore the notion that people multi-process badly." He also pointed us to a "short scribble" (his phrase, though we kind of like it) from which it appears much of his quote was pulled verbatim. It's clear that Saffo didn't mean for the figure to be taken literally, yet the Times saw fit to publish it without any sort of qualifying language.

But at least that one came from somewhere—the piece's central claim, which is that "the number of fatal accidents stemming from texting while driving, crossing the street or engaging in other activities is on the rise," is, according to the paper itself, based on "anecdotal evidence." To understand the absurdity of this, try replacing "texting" with "talking" or "thinking" or "eating" or "blowing your nose."

We don't doubt that texting is distracting, but, with the notable exception of texting-while-driving (wouldn't that be more dangerous than talking on the phone while driving, seeing as the latter doesn't necessarily require that you take your eyes off the road?), we don't really see how it's any more distracting than the thousand other little things that can occupy your mind during the course of the day. If indeed we are wrong, we'd at least like to see some (non-anecdotal) evidence.

(Photo courtesy Señor Codo's Flickr.)







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