Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.


Texting and the Decline and Fall of Independence

There are plenty of geolocation services: Foursquare, Mytown, Gowalla, Latitude – and now, Facebook is virtual-locating you b with its Instant Personalization. But here’s the thing about me. I LIKE that people don’t always know where I am. I appreciate that. I cherish that. That makes me a bit introverted and antique. I’m okay with that.

So I was already feeling old-fashioned when I read a Pew report that the average 14-17 year old girl sends 100 texts a day. A hundred a day. Just on average. It boggles my mind. Sure, everybody texts – but if you’re between the ages of eight and 20, chances are that the way you text is very different.

Texting is changing the whole nature of conversation for the 1990-and-after generation. Conversations aren’t discrete units anymore. They start in school and go after school and when you’re out to dinner with your family and overnight in bed and throughout the weekend when you think of it and then back at school again. Wherever you are, you’re not 100% there, because you’re keeping up with all of those different conversations too.

You could ask if that’s rude, but that’s been talked about plenty, and it’s kind of beside the point. I suspect that when radios were introduced, people thought it was rude to have the radio on while you were having a conversation.

What I want to know is, will the current generation be able to handle silence? Being alone? These kids have helicopter parents and 24/7 friends. How could they function if they were dropped somewhere new… without their phone?

One night last summer I found myself in a staring at dark woods and sheer cliffs on a desolate dirt road. I was alone on a foreign island where I didn’t speak the language and my smart phone was shut down. It was a crash-course reminder on what “alone” means. It was no fun at all.

But, ten years ago I went on study abroad and had one of the best experiences of my life – because of my lack of connectivity. I’ve revisited the area several times and recently saw current students taking their laptops and global phones everywhere with them. They were missing the point completely, and losing out on so much. Being alone is amazingly instructive. You watch. You learn. You find out what you’re capable of all by yourself.

I am the biggest geek you can find, and I’m not a parent, but I firmly believe this: parents should not give their kids so many screens and leave them alone with them to make them life crutches.

Sometimes you don’t know where you are. Sometimes nobody knows where you are. Sometimes you don’t have anyone to talk to. That is not bad. That is not living in a bubble.

Are there cell phone companies that offer a teen package? I want a counter to see how many texts my kid had sent, a cache so I could review the messages, and a block on sending or reading texts for eight hours a night.

And while I’m at it, I want a course that parents take with their kids – in which it is made crystal clear that a phone is NOT a fancy Etch-a-Sketch where your message or picture disappears forever once you’re done with it. With guest appearances by Tiger Woods, Miley Cyrus, and the mayor of Detroit.

Thanks to @andya, @khmendez, @prblog, @serena, @writebrainmedia, and my 15-year-old stepsis for providing data points and helping me ponder.


[…] Last week I found this little book, Heidegger, Habermas and the Mobile Phone, from my thesis shelf – and this in it, which grabbed me especially hard after my recent post (Texting and the Decline and Fall of Independence): […]

Sarah Morgan

Karen, that’s exactly what freaks me out about it! “Any time you tell the internet where you are, you are also telling the internet where you are not.”

Erin, I think they’re still Millennials. And I hope you’re right about this generation being an anomaly.

I’m ready for that backlash anytime. Let’s start it.


I feel badly for kids in the generation that is texting now. (do they have a name??) I think (and hope) that when the babies of today are in their teen years, they’ll have parents who are a little more tuned in to what they can do with phones and the web. Responsible parents will be able to start having conversations with their kids at an early age about texts and pictures never going away, etc.

I hope Robin’s privacy backlash happens.

Sarah Morgan

Robin, I love your comments. I am 100% with you on the safety aspects of location announcements – sometimes it’s intrusive but sometimes it’s just plain stupid!

And I like the idea of a privacy backlash. Especially given the ongoing economic situation, maybe that will be the new indulgence – not so much where your vacation destination is, but how unreachable you are there! Sounds lovely….


When I was younger, my mom didn’t want me to spread around to too many people exactly when I’d be on vacation. Because the more people that knew that information, the more likely it was that some shady individual would find out there was an empty house somewhere in the suburbs, begging to be robbed. Is my mom a little paranoid? Maybe. But she had a point. Any time you tell the internet where you are, you are also telling the internet where you are not and compromising your security. It’s consequences like that that I worry today’s kids won’t think about before they broadcast their whereabouts.

Robin F

I’m totally with you on not wanting people to always know where I am. I refuse to use services like Foursquare for that reason. Let’s forget the safety issues of people knowing when you’re out of town (read: away from your house. Hello, robbers, come rob me! Please!). Sometimes, like you, I just don’t want to be found. I don’t want to be social. I want to sit at a Starbucks and read my paper or work on my novel. I want to be at home and not answer the phone just because I don’t feel like talking. To anyone!

As to the 100 texts a day… I wonder how many actual phone calls these people are making. I have found that as my texting minutes rise, my phone minutes fall.

The question is: will all this being with others all the time end up in a huge backlash of people craving privacy? I lived with people — be it family or roommates — for the first 23 years of my life. Then I moved into my first solo apartment. I didn’t think I’d like it because I’m a people person. I LOVED IT!! How many others will accidentally discover their love of privacy? I don’t know. I hope they do.

And, yes, the trips abroad are the best vacations for just that reason — the lack of connectivity. Sure, I rent an international cell phone in case of emergencies. But I only give that number to my parents and my mother-in-law. No one else gets it. And it’s so nice to be away from everything. Talk about rejuvenation… go on a vacation where your office can’t reach you!

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