In July 2008, in a column titled, "The curse of cell phones," I wrote: "As if cell phones aren't distracting enough already, they're getting worse. When people aren't yakking away on them, they're listening to MP3 songs, snapping photos or Googling on the Internet. Some of the infernal contraptions even have GPS capability. What next?"
What came next was more cell phones, more "apps" and texting.
When I was a kid, a typical family had one telephone in the house. Now kids who barely know how to tie their shoelaces don't leave home without their "mobile."
It's as if a plague has swept the earth. In 1990, 12.4 million people worldwide had cellular subscriptions. Now, only 20 years later, that number has rocketed to about 5 billion.
I'm sure I could think of something good to say about cell phones, if I applied myself. They're just tools. Like guns, they're easy to misuse.
While combat fishing for sockeyes on the Kenai River, I've seen anglers respond like Pavlov's dog to an irritating ringtone, then talk loudly and at length without giving up their fishing spot. I've seen people talk on a mobile while walking and hiking trails, showing a callous disregard for others and their surroundings. I've heard of hunters, who had neither map nor compass, calling and asking for someone to find them, please.
What riled me up on this subject was something that happened earlier this week. I was looking at something on a store shelf, when a young man who was busily texting walked right into me. "Oops," he said, and went on his way, still thumbing his mobile keypad. Urbandictionary.com contains an apt verb for this form of rudeness -- "texterbate: to text (as on a cellular phone) while in the company of others, ignoring all else."
Texting, or text messaging, is an irritating side-effect of cell-phone use. If you've been in a coma for the past decade, texting involves keying in messages and sending them via the Short Message Service (SMS). It has its own lingo. "Your new shoes are so cool" might be sent as "yr nu shoz r so QL." The average cost of sending a text message in the U.S. is about 10 cents. In May 2010, the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of U.S. adult cell phone users send and receive text messages.
In years past, when you saw someone on the Kenai Peninsula with a blister on their thumb, you'd be right most of the time if you surmised he had thumbed a reel spool to put the brakes on a rampaging salmon. Today odds are good that the blister is due to excessive texting, a repetitive-strain injury brought on by too much pressing of the thumbs on mobiles. Another term for this self-inflicted affliction is "BlackBerry thumb."
In addition to gaming, Web surfing and TV watching, texting is yet another time-burner that keeps people from engaging in healthy outdoor activities. It has been blamed for social unrest, cheating by students, vehicle accidents, the ousting of the president of the Philippines and the 2008 Chatsworth train collision, which killed 25 passengers. Texting deserves that blame, and so much more.
In this fast-paced, highly technical world, communication is more important than ever. But communication that's rude, harmful or an utter waste of time is counterproductive to living a happy, productive life. TxtN aint QL.
Les Palmer lives mobile-free in Sterling.
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