Texting, the Next Epidemic: Our National Well-Being Is in Jeopardy

The United States has fallen behind many industrialized nations in educational outcomes, and educators have statistically confirmed that our children and adults are reading and writing considerably less than previous generations. The main reason is because the time we used to spend reading and writing has been replaced with technological communication -- mainly text messaging. One learns to communicate -- learns to think, write and speak with clarity -- by reading and writing. It is absolutely crucial that we do not become so hooked on using the shortcuts and codes of texting that we fail to develop into accomplished thinkers, writers and speakers.

About every place we look, people of all ages are texting -- in restaurants, churches, classrooms, grocery stores, malls, movies, gyms, court rooms, cars, trains, airports, parks, playgrounds, athletic events, and on and on the list of places goes. Some people text openly, while others try to hide that they are texting.

When people sit down at a restaurant, frequently there is little or no interaction between them -- they are all concentrating on their cell phones. When they finally do attempt to have a conversation, they are only half engaged because each one of them is keeping an eye or ear attuned for that next message.

Parents take their children to parks or parties and ignore them to concentrate on their cell phones. Teens and tweens stand in circles of glowing screens ignoring one another, as their thumbs fly across the keyboards. Even when they decide to talk, they continue focusing on their cell phones rather than paying attention to those around them.

Acting in these ways not only is rude and inconsiderate, but doing so can also lead to the failure of learning life skills. Current and future generations of people may not gain the practical skills of communication so necessary in maneuvering through the maze of real life, and it will potentially have significant and lasting repercussions for personal success and happiness, as well as for our nation's position as a world leader.

Let's fast forward to the future. If today's young people do not learn to be critical thinkers and how to write and speak with clarity of thought,
• what will happen when our local, state and federal legislators meet to govern -- to craft, debate and pass new laws?
• what will happen with such things as police reports or legal documents like leases, rules and guidelines of employment, contracts, lawyers' briefs, and judges' decisions?
• what will happen when union leaders and company representatives or school boards meet to negotiate new contracts?
• how will teachers teach the best of everything if they themselves do not thoroughly understand and appreciate the basics of those same subjects?

And what about our future role in international affairs? If our national leaders, diplomats and members of the state department are not the ablest of thinkers and communicators, how will the United States evaluate and write treaties and other international agreements? How will our military leaders formulate and communicate clear and precise orders for our armed forces? And what about the social skills we failed to develop because we were too busy texting? We have to wonder if our national leaders will be able to carry on conversations and engage in negotiations without having to sneak a peek at their cell phones or, even worse, if they will be able to write it all down in complete, coherent, and grammatically correct thoughts.

Does all this sound far-fetched?

Over the last 45 years, fast-food restaurants have made it quick, easy and relatively inexpensive for families to bypass the basics of preparing nutritious meals, and now we have a national obesity epidemic on our hands. Instead of dealing with the root causes of the alarming rise of college tuition for the last thirty years, we have taken the easy way out by saddling our students with outrageous amounts of student loans -- a situation that many fear will fuel our next economic crisis. Or what about the practice we began in the 1990s of lowering basic credit standards to make it easier for more people to buy houses? Look at the terrible economic mess we are in now.

Taking shortcuts and ignoring the basics -- like our national fascination with texting rather than spending the time to become accomplished thinkers, writers and speakers -- may seem attractive right now, may seem like the wave of the future that would be foolish not to be totally engaged in. But choosing to ignore these symptoms of a looming epidemic will certainly lead to our demise as a culture and a world leader.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should stop texting or that our youth should spend all of their time in libraries reading and studying. We need a realistic solution grounded in awareness and balance that will last over the long haul.

We can start by each of us taking our individual responsibility for curtailing our current over-indulgence with text messaging. We can start by deciding on a daily basis what are appropriate and respectful times for texting and when a phone call should be made to have a full conversation. We can learn that life will go on even if we turn off our cell phones every now and then, and we can start by turning them off during meals, when we are working or studying, at social gatherings, during one-on-one time with our children, and when we are sleeping.

Granted, these are only a small beginning, but we must begin someplace. Once these kinds of goals become realities in our lives, our families, friends, and business associates will understand and appreciate our strength of character, and we as individuals -- yes, even you -- will be relieved from the pressure of feeling an obligation to be accessible 24/7. And wouldn't that be a relief!

Furthermore, we will all be acting in responsible ways to help assure happiness, purpose and achievement for current and future generations of our citizens, as well as helping to maintain our country's role as significant and contributing world leader.