Talking Point: We’re ‘text obsessed’ but is that such a bad thing?

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It seems these days we’d rather text someone than actually speak to them on the phone, or meet them face-to-face. But Neil Hudson asks whether the cultural shift in the way we communicate with each other is necessarily a bad thing

Susan Stern is a voice coach who has worked with actors and high profile business leaders.

She said: “With a text message, you lose all the emphasis. I’ve often sent messages to people and they have misinterpreted them.

“When sending a text, people tend not to use punctuation and the intonation you get with speech is lost.

“Mobile phone use in general has already had an effect on us – quite often when people come to me, I have to get them to learn to open up their jaw more. When we speak on the phone, our voices are flatter and we don’t use our jaw as much. Through this and the use of text, our voices are becoming flatter.

“From the moment we are born, our brains are programmed to pick up on all the subtleties of language, so when we are speaking we can often say one thing but mean something completely difference – with a text message, all of that is completely lost.

“Of course, it also means you can get away with an awful lot, like texting the boss that you won’t be at work because you’re ill, rather than speaking to them.

“Texting can also make us afraid of physical confrontation but this is how the world is developing. My grandson can scroll an iPhone at eight months and he will grow up expecting to be able to interact with it.

“The danger is we may end up as flat as the screen on which we’re sending the text.”

Helen Copley is 96 and a member of Bramley Elderly Action, a campaign group which runs activities for elderly people. She grew up in the town and for most of her career worked as a butcher.

She said she considered mobile phones a nuisance but added she would not want to prevent people using them.

She said: “I do not own a mobile phone and I don’t think I would want to now. It’s not something that has ever bothered me really.

“I see people using them out in public and talking and shouting into them on buses and so on and I think they are a nuisance. I wouldn’t want to stop anyone having one, I just think they should use them in private.

“When I was growing up, people had telephones of course, although not everyone had one and not everyone had a television. Nowadays, everyone seems to have a mobile phone.

“There has been a definite change in manners, I don’t think people are as polite as they used to be.

“People used to dress up smart every Sunday and if they went to church they always used to wear a hat – that doesn’t happen any more.

“We used to entertain ourselves with things like drawing, knitting and painting.

“It’s not something that bothers me all that much really, because I don’t have a mobile phone.

“I think I’d always prefer to meet people in person anyway.”

Dr Dan Laughey is a senior lecturer in media at the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University.

He said: “I’m kind of on the fence in a way because there’s some evidence to suggest there’s nothing wrong with it in the sense that language has been evolving ever since it was invented, it is constantly changing and this is just the process in action.

“As a culture, we have never followed a prescriptive route in terms of how our language develops.

“Technology can often change the way we communicate. If we go back to when telephones were first invented, to begin with a lot of people were suspicious of them and did not like using them – some still don’t.

“If we go back to the telegram, that too changed the way people communicated, because the longer the message, the more expensive it was, so people used a lot of abbreviations and found ways of communicating which were different – it’s the same with texting.

“The problem comes when someone is so used to using the language of text and email that they are unable to interact with the world in a more formal way, say for example when submitting a job application, which requires more formal language.

“I am concerned about the pace of change and I do think that more effort should be made in schools to teach children about proper grammar, as opposed to the colloquial conversational approach we see used in text messages.”

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “Mobile phones are an essential part of life for many people, helping us stay in touch with family, friends and business associates. There are safety benefits, enabling people to call breakdown or emergency services if they need to.

“But they also create risks if used inappropriately, especially when driving.

“Using a mobile phone while driving, whether hand-held or hands-free, distracts the driver, impairs their control of the vehicle and their judgement and slows reaction time. This significantly increases the risk of crashing.

“Texting while driving is even worse than speaking as it causes greater distraction and requires more concentration. A texting driver will have their eyes off the road, a hand off the steering wheel and their mind off what’s happening. They are much more likely to miss spotting a pedestrian, a nearby cyclist, or brake lights coming on in front of them.

“Every year, innocent people are killed and their families traumatised by drivers who choose to use their mobile phone while driving. The drivers in these cases, quite rightly, go to jail.

“Texting while walking can also distract pedestrians from their immediate surroundings, particularly in busy areas and near to roads. Falling into a fountain might be funny; stepping in front of a car is not. Our advice is, if texting, stop walking while you do it.”

Texting Facts

The number of text messages sent annually over the last decade has increased 2,000 per cent from seven billion to 129 billion.

The average teenager sends about 60 text messages per day but some send over 100.

In 2008, Brick Lane in London was made Britain’s first ‘text safe’ street, with pads fitted to lampposts so people walking into them wouldn’t be injured.

In January this year, a rise in repetitive strain injury cases in children was reported, because of the time they spent texting.