The Pros and Cons of Texting and IM by Kelley Loftis

1/8/2009 8:00:00 AM

Text messaging and instant messaging have become so widely used by teens that teachers have noticed a drastic change in students’ writing habits. Students are integrating the abbreviations that are used in texting or instant messaging into their school work. It is becoming such a problem that teachers must explain why using the shortcut language is not acceptable in the business world.
Not only has texting and instant messaging caused a laziness in language, it has also created issues in other areas of teenagers’ lives.

Texting while driving is a serious issue that is causing accidents and deaths. Other issues that texting has created are cheating during tests, distractions and disruptions during class time, as well as having the potential for spreading community rumors. Although the concept of being able to communicate easily with others has drastically improved with the introduction of text messaging and instant messaging, the implications tend to be negative. We have to ask ourselves:  Is the benefit of the technology worth the distraction?
Introduction

According to webopedia.com, text messaging is “sending short text messages to a device such as a cellular phone, PDA or pager. Text messaging is used for messages that are no longer than a few hundred characters.” (Jupitermedia, 2008)  Instant messaging, while different than text messaging, is similar. Instant messaging is defined on webopedia.com as “abbreviated IM, a type of communications service that enables you to create a kind of private chat room with another individual in order to communicate in real time over the Internet, analogous to a telephone conversation but using text-based, not voice-based, communication.” (Jupitermedia, 2008)
If you spend any time with teenagers, you will witness their fascination with texting and instant messaging. These technologies give teens access to their friends 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is not surprising that texting and related technologies have become so popular. What is surprising is how irresponsible this technology is making many teenagers. Gone is the ability to put the phone down and get work done. It is very scary what teens will do while texting. Driving while texting?  Why not?  It is not like you need to concentrate or anything.

With the introduction of texting, and other such technologies, teachers have noticed that writing skills are decreasing and use of cell phones and texting is becoming a nightmare to control in school settings. Students are getting crafty with texting and even using their cell phones and texting to cheat. Other negative side effects of texting include physical harm or death to self or others, discipline issues at school, as well as creating panic over unexplained information.


While it is plain to see that texting technology has its share of negative effects, not all aspects of texting are negative. Parents can use text messaging to determine if their child needs a ride home. Other parents use texting to determine the location of their child. Families may use texting to communicate instead of calling each other. While it is agreed that there are always positives and negatives to any situation, in this case the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. The question then becomes:  Are the benefits worth dealing with the distractions?

A Survey of Teens
To get a better idea of the effects of texting on teenagers and how much this technology was actually being used, a survey was conducted in Sanford, NC. Sixty-five students at Southern Lee High School were asked questions about their usage of texting and instant messaging. To ensure the honesty of the answers, the surveys were anonymous and the students were told that their answers would not be used against them. The students were asked the following questions:

Do you text message or instant message or both?
How many hours a day do you text message?  How many text messages do you send in a day?
How many hours a day do you instant message?  How often do you instant message?
Do you text message while in school?  How many text messages do you send in a normal class period?  (1 hour and 30 minutes)
Have you ever used text messaging to cheat on an assignment or test?  If so how often?
Do you text message while driving (if you can drive)?
Do you think texting while driving is dangerous?  Why/why not?

The results of the survey were interesting. It was determined that out of the 65 students, two instant messaged only, and 29 text messaged only. Thirty students responded that they both texted and instant messaged. Four students did not have an answer or did not text message or instant message. It was determined that an average of 323 text messages are sent in a day by these 59 students. Fifty –one of the 59 students, or 86.4 percent, text message in class. Also, on average, 38 text messages are sent in a 90-minute class period. When asked if they have used texting to cheat on a test or assignment, nine students, or 15.3 percent, responded yes. While 22 of the 59, or 37.3 percent, stated that they text messaged while driving, 45 out of the 59, or 76.3 percent, stated that they did think that texting while driving was dangerous.

Texting/IM History
“The first text message was sent on December 3, 1992 from a computer to a cell phone. The message read only two words – “Merry Christmas” – but changed the face of mobile communication forever.”  (Merritt, 2008)  According to a Nielson Mobile Survey, more American cell phone users are using text messages than using cell phones to make calls. (Reardon, 2008)  According to Reardon, texting or SMS (Short Message Service) first became popular in Europe and Asia. The popularity was due to the ease of use and the fact that it was less expensive than making a phone call. In the U.S. texting has become a money maker for cellular providers. It all comes back to teenagers, ages 13 to 17 years old, who reportedly send and or receive, on average 1,742 text messages a month. While teens originally made more phone calls a month, their call usage has dropped to an average 231 calls a month. (Reardon, 2008)

Concepts and Abbreviations
Texting and IMing is a language all unto itself. It is amazing how short the messages become. A normal English conversation can be chopped down to several characters in length. Phrases like ‘be right back’ changes to brb, and ttyl means ‘talk to you later.’  The texting phenomenon has become so accepted that this type of abbreviation has been used in commercials and advertisements. A popular commercial that uses the texting “language” is the Cingular© commercial between a mom and daughter. The mom is fussing at the child for text messaging too much. When asked who she is texting the response is “IDK my BFF Jill” which is translated to mean “I don’t know, my best friend forever Jill.”  You can see how this texting craze has crossed over to the media.

Webopedia.com has a page on its site that lists over 900 text/IM/chat abbreviations. Here are some examples:
Abbreviation    What it really means
LSHMBH    Laugh so hard my belly hurts
AAMOF    As a matter of fact
BFFLNMW    Best friends for life, no matter what
DYNWUTB    Do you know what you are talking about?
TNSTAAFL    There is no such thing as a free lunch

Effects on Classwork
There are varying perspectives on the effects of Texting/Instant Messaging on the written language. For every article that says texting is ruining the way teens write there are two that say texting is in fact helping our youth write. The overall consensus is that texting or IM may not be the cause of the decline in writing skills. Many claim that it is the fault of teachers because grammar and the English language is not being taught effectively. “Many experts insist that teenage composition is as strong as ever – and that the proliferation of writing, in all its harried, hasty forms, has actually created a generation more adept with the written word.”  (McCarroll, 2005)

One British study found that children who text and use abbreviations “…scored higher on reading and vocabulary tests. In fact, the more adept they were at abbreviating, the better they did in spelling and writing.”  (Huang, 2008)  Huang goes on to say that the same study also found that the children who had the highest scores were the same children who were given a cell phone before their peers.

Although it may be decided that texting and instant messaging is not a detriment to students’ writing skills, the cell phone and texting are major problems in the classroom. As an educator, I see the problems that cell phones create on a daily basis. At Southern Lee High School cell phone usage is addressed specifically in the student handbook. “Cell phones are NOT visible or used during the instructional day. If they are seen or used during the instructional day, they may be confiscated and may be picked up at the area administrator’s office at the end of the day.”  (Lee County School District, 2008)  Although this is a stated rule, it is very difficult to catch the students in the act. These students are very good at hiding their phones while texting. I have even seen students looking directly at me and texting at the same time. Nothing I do stops the behavior – taking the phone just delays their habit.

As evident in the results of the survey given to students at Southern Lee High School, 51 out of 59 students, or 86.4 percent, text while in class. Nine of the 59 students, or 15.3 percent, even admitted to cheating via text and cell phone. Texting and cell phones are not just a problem at SLHS. According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Salli Robinson – a teacher at East High School – has the same problems. “Students walk down the hall, talk to their friends and text at the same time…It’s a fact of life, there’s no way you could ban them. It would be too much of a logistical nightmare.”  (Fulton, 2008)  According to the article most school districts have policies similar to the SLHS policy on cell phones. “Approaches vary depending on the school, but in general most districts allow students to bring phones to school as long as they remain off during class and instruction time, pose no disruption to school operations…”  (Fulton, 2008)  The article also discusses the issue of using text messages to cheat on tests. “Administrators of college-entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT ban the devices outright in rooms where students take the test.”

The effects of texting and instant messaging are even becoming evident on college applications. According to Melanie West, Career Development Coordinator for Southern Lee High School, “employers as well as college representatives are reporting that some students are using text messaging terminology as they are filling out applications, writing essays and even term papers. It is becoming more and more of a problem as our students create their own shortcuts to communicate.”  She encourages staff members of Southern Lee to watch for this type of communication and suggests that we take steps to prevent it.

While many teachers struggle to keep texting and cell phone usage out of the classroom, some teachers embrace the technology and encourage the use of texting to reach students. At the University of Las Vegas, English instructor Thomas Johnson says that he has seen “text-speak” show up in tests and papers. But Johnson doesn’t believe that using text slang is going to “hurt the development of formal English” (Sheneman, 2007). Instead, Johnson believes that students can differentiate between the use of “text-speak” and formal English. He believes that that they know how to speak to their friends versus how to speak to a professor. A student at UNLV says she actually uses texting concepts to take notes. She says that it helps her write faster. (Sheneman, 2007)  Johnson also believes that “text-speak” is a part of the natural progression of the English language. “It is what makes English a living language.” (Sheneman, 2007)

Using Texting to Cheat
According to the above referenced survey, nine out of 59 students, or 15.3 percent of students admit to using text messaging to cheat on assignments and tests. Many of the students surveyed stated that cheating via text message was not worth the trouble, and that is was too easy to get caught. In other words, many more would probably use text messaging to cheat, but do not because it is easy to be caught.

Monitoring Software
Because 51 out of 59 students, or 86.4 percent of students text while in class, it would be almost impossible to catch students using their cell phones to cheat on tests and assignments. But what if teachers had software that could detect the traffic of text messages including what was sent and who sent it?  That technology is very close to becoming a reality. Explained on their website, http://www.mobile-spy.com/, Retina-X Studios©, LLC has created software that can be loaded onto a smartphone and silently track every text message into and out of one phone. It allows parents or employers to monitor the person using the particular smartphone. You can purchase the Mobile Spy® software from $49.97 for quarterly use to $99.97 for annual use.

The same can be done to track Instant Messaging and e-mail usage. Explained on their website, http://ematrixsoft.com/, e-MatrixSoft©, Inc. has created a program called Power Spy®. This program will track e-mail, and instant messages from the various messengers , such as:  MSN messaging, ICQ messaging, AIM messaging, and Yahoo messaging. Power Spy® can be purchased online for $79.99 and is Vista© compatible.

There are many more software programs out there that will monitor both instant messaging and text messaging. Unfortunately, I have not found any such program that will allow a teacher to monitor multiple students’ text messaging from the classroom. Think of the possibilities. How easy monitoring would be if you could track your students’ text messaging usage because he/she was in proximity of the computers in your classroom?  The problems to overcome would be not knowing the student’s phone numbers and the processing speed necessary to run such a program without causing other programs to slow down. I am sure that this type of software will become available in the near future.

Accidents Attributed to Text Messaging
In this age of technology, people will do anything to stay connected. In the last several years, the number of text related accidents have increased. “…the American College of Emergency Physicians warns of the danger of …serious accidents involving oblivious texters.”  (Aleccia, 2008)  People have been injured walking, skating and even riding Segways while texting at the same time. The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission states that there is no known national estimate on the number text-related injuries. Many people do not want to admit that they injured themselves while texting. “But since 2005, the agency has received at least seven reports of serious texting mishaps, including a 15-year-old who fell off her horse while texting, suffering head and back injuries, and a 13-year-old girl who suffered belly, leg and arm burns after texting her boyfriend while cooking noodles.” (Aleccia, 2008)

Unfortunately, not all people who have texted while doing another activity have survived. “A San Francisco woman was killed by a pickup truck earlier this year when she stepped off a curb while texting, and a Bakersfield man was killed last year by a car while crossing the street and texting.” (Aleccia, 2008)  It was also reported that a 13-year-old boy in Florida was killed “after he stepped into the path of a car while looking down and text messaging on his cell phone.”  (local6.com, 2008)

Even the most deadly train crash in 15 years has been attributed to text messaging. Although the reports are not finalized, the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports “suggest that the engineer was text messaging on a personal communications device minutes before the wreck.”  (DeLeon, 2008)  It is too early to determine if the text messages were the sole cause of the crash, but it is safe to say that the text messages probably distracted the engineer which very well may have lead to the collision. Twenty-five people were killed in this incident and 130 people were injured.

Laws Passed
All of these injuries and deaths have contributed to, and will continue to contribute to, the laws that have been passed about texting and talking on cell phones. West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana, Delaware, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania have all tried to ban talking while driving but have fallen short. Also, Rhode Island, New York, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maryland have all tried to ban texting while driving, but have also failed. (DeLeon, 2008)  Several states have been successful at enforcing a ban on using wireless phones and other devices while driving. Those states include California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington and Washington DC. (DeLeon, 2008)  Baltimore city has been successful at banning all 13,000 employees from talking or texting even if the phone has Bluetooth® technology. Baltimore officials say that they want their employees to set a good example. (DeLeon, 2008).

Distracted Teens
It is easy to see that if adults can be distracted by text messaging, teens may be even more distracted. According to several studies by insurance companies, distractions in general are the leading cause of teenaged crashes, not drunk driving as so many thought. “Auto accidents are the leading cause of teenager deaths in the United States. The National Safety Council, calling the issue a ‘national crisis,’ noted that 44% of all teen deaths result from crashes each year; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that nearly 6,000 teens are killed each year, with more than 300,000 teens injured.”  (Brewer-Cavanaugh, 2007)  Laurette Stiles, Vice President of Strategic Resources for State Farm Insurance Cos., states “teens are driving today with so many distractions and dealing with a number of different issues, making it really difficult for them to focus on driving.”  (Brewer-Cavanaugh, 2007)  

A survey was released in the July issue of Seventeen magazine by the AAA (American Automobile Association) stating that an “alarmingly high number” of teens talk and or send text messages while driving. Also, a 2007 Liberty Mutual/SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) survey stated that “while 37% of teens find text messaging “very” or “extremely distracting” to their driving they still do it.”  (Brewer-Cavanaugh, 2007)  This correlates well with the survey conducted at Southern Lee High School. Although 45 of 65 students, or 69.2 percent of students realize the danger of texting while driving, 22 of 65, or 33.8 percent of students still do it.
 
teen driving(Brewer-Cavanaugh, 2007)

New Technology Available
A new technology that will reportedly be out early next year can be downloaded or subscribed to through your mobile phone company. The software detects when your phone is in motion, like while driving, and collects all calls and texts. Instead of having to monitor your calls or texts while driving, this software, called DriveAssist™, forwards your messages to voice mail, enables a callback as soon as the person is done driving, or allows the caller to find out where the driver is via GPS. This allows the driver to concentrate on the road and not be distracted. The company who created this product, Aegis Mobility©, has a website which shows a video explaining the DriveAssist™ concept.

Aegis Mobility© and the insurance company Nationwide® are working together to help educate parents and teens about the problem of Driving While Distracted or DWD. Nationwide’s AVP of Safety, William Windsor states on the joint website, http://www.aegismobility.com/index.php/News/Latest/Nationwide-Insurance-and-Aegis-Mobility.html, “DriveAssist™ is the first technology for reducing DWD. Nationwide is partnering with Aegis Mobility© to help bring consumers an effective tool that empowers people to make smart decisions behind the wheel and to make the road a safer place.”  It is good to see that there are companies that see that teenager distractions are a problem and are working hard to decrease the number of people injured by DWD accidents.

Conclusion – Are the Benefits Worth the Distraction?
Text messaging and instant messaging are technologies that allow people to stay in contact with their friends and family via cell phone and computer. Both are beneficial and if used correctly have the potential to be a powerful tool. The problem is that teens do not understand the proper time to use the technology. In this age of gadget mania, be it video games, instant messages or text messages, students do not know how to leave the technology alone. We, as a society, need to impress upon our teens and young adults, that texting while doing something else can be hazardous to their safety and wellbeing. We need to determine a means to keep them from texting in inappropriate settings and while driving or walking down the street. Enforcing laws that ban texting or cell phone use in cars is just the first step. Also, requiring technology like DriveAssist™ by Aegis Mobility© could potentially reduce the number of accidents by distracted teens and adults. Whatever the cure, we need to find it quickly before more of people lose their lives because of this distracting technology. In my opinion, the benefits are not worth the cost of the distractions.

Kelley Loftis is a  BITE Graduate Student and Assistant Director of Technical Services at the Southern Pines Public Library
in Southern Pines, NC


 
References
Aegis Mobility, Inc. (2008)  Retrieved November 19, 2008 from http://www.aegismobility.com/
Aegis Mobility, Inc. and Nationwide Insurance. (2008). Retrieved November 23, 2008 from http://www.aegismobility.com/index.php/News/Latest/Nationwide-Insurance-and-Aegis-Mobility.html
Aleccia, JoNel. (2008). Oblivious texters hurt as they walk, even skate – ER docs warn of serious injuries, deaths from text-message mishaps. Retrieved September 23, 2008 from http://www.msnbc.com/id/25934644
Brewer-Cavanaugh, Bonnie. (2007). Curbing Distractions. Best’s Review, 108, 46-50. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database.
DeLeon, Carrie. (2008). Train Accident Renews Policy-makers’ Concerns Over Safety of Talking, Texting While Driving. Telecommunications Reports, 74, 3-4. Retrieved from Business Source Premier.
Fulton, Ben. (2008). Schools fight losing battle against student cell phone use. Retrieved September 23, 2008 from http://www.sltrib.com/articleID=10528103
Huang, Lily. (2008). The Death of English (LOL). Retrieved September 23, 2008 from http://www.newsweek.com/id/150449
Jupitermedia Corporation. (2008)  Instant Messaging. Retrieved October 22, 2008 from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/I/instant_messaging.html
Jupitermedia Corporation. (2008)  Text Messaging. Retrieved October 22, 2008 from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/T/text_messaging.html
Lee County School District. (2008). SLHS Student Handbook.
Local6.com. (2008). Text-messaging boy dies after stepping in car’s path. Retrieved September 23, 2008 from http://www.local6.com/news/17534489/detail.html
McCarroll, Christina. (2005). Teens ready to prove text-messaging skills can score SAT points. Retrieved September 15, 2008 from http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0311/p01s02-ussc.html
Merritt, Laura. (2008). OMG! A Txt From Mom?  Retrieved September 23, 2008 from http://www.wptv.com/content/segments/smartwomen/story.aspx?content_id=1da7f240-c406-484d-96c0-414cfe24b9cc
Ohio State University Libraries. How Do I? Cite Resources:  American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved September 29, 2008, from http://library.osu.edu/sites/guides/apagd.php#eresourceone
Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL). General APA Guidelines. Retrieved October 22, 2008, from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
Reardon, Marguerite. (2008). Text Messaging Explodes in America. Retrieved September 23, 2008 from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/09/23/tech/cnettechnews/printable4471183.shtml.
Sheneman, Kathleen. (2007). Teaching through text message. Retrieved September 15, 2008 from http://archive.unlvrebelyell.com/article.php?ID=10765

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