Sunday, July 20, 2008 By Aaron Brown
By Aaron J. Brown
I'm slowly entering the age group that, upon hearing young people in public, wonders how the humans of the future will maintain electricity and running water. I'm not all the way there, yet, but drifting notably.
This transition became known to me as I emerged from our minivan at a gas station in northern Minnesota. I overheard a teenage boy and girl engage in conversation. It's not polite to eavesdrop, but these were loud, attractive teenagers and it had been a long, uneventful drive. I had secretly hoped that these teenagers would talk about the things that I would talk about if I were a teenager again, especially an attractive teenager with a truck, no apparent job and a pretty girl talking to me.
These kids were talking about text messaging. No, not the impact of text messaging on society or on how they longed for the deep human experience of one-on-one conversation, but about text messages they sent to unrelated people recently. It seems sometimes people don’t read their text messages right away, waiting instead until later, when whatever they were talking about was already over. “OMG,” as the kids say.
Text messaging is a form of communication I hope to avoid, much like faxing. As a teenager in the 1990s I used cord phones and typewriters. (It was the Iron Range; we were behind). Then, when I went to college I learned about computers, the Internet and e-mail. I totally skipped fax machines, which caused problems when I was dealing with people mired in the fax machine generation.
ME: “Can’t I just e-mail this?”
FAXY MCFAXER: “Oh, no. I don’t understand computers.”
ME: OK, fine. Do I have to press one first, or just the green button?”
FAXY MCFAXER: “Oh, that all depends. I’ll just fax you what I have. It will get there at some vague point in the future and your co-worker will put it in the garbage, so look for it there.”
And … scene! There’s my opinion of fax machines. Text messaging is much trendier, but every bit as inane to me. The concept of text messages is that these cell phone-based communications are for times when you can’t talk in person, on the phone or over e-mail. I can imagine times when that might work. Maybe you’re pinned in a closet while an armed militia occupies the local branch of your friendly neighborhood bank. What a great time to text: “OMG. Militia at bank. Send cops!”
But that’s not how it really works. Text people are actually replacing vast portions of their human interaction with abbreviated missives fired at very important people in their lives. In my day job, I encounter vast numbers of students who have had major life conversations using text messaging, including fights, break-ups and even discussions of how their marriage might be structured.
So, begrudgingly, for the first time, acknowledging my mortality, I offer this general query: What is it with the kids these days?
I don’t know anything about the pair of teenagers back at that gas station. Maybe there were just friends, friends who longed for each other, a couple or something else. But I guarantee, when they own a minivan in 2023, they’ll wish they had talked about something else. Something … important.
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