Texting: Its Uses, Misuses, and Effects

Texting: Its Uses, Misuses, and Effects

Paola Pascual-Ferrá (Loyola University Maryland, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch099


Texting has become the preferred form of communication for many people around the world, especially teenagers and young adults. While texting allows individuals to communicate anywhere at any time, its accessibility also makes people prone to misuse the technology. This article attempts to synthesize the body of research on texting accumulated during the last decade, with a particular emphasis on the areas that have sparked the greatest debates regarding its use—education and learning, health, language and literacy, privacy and security, social relationships, text-bullying, and traffic safety. Other controversial mobile phone uses associated with texting, such as sexting, have been excluded from this article because of their increasing dependence on multi-media messaging services (MMS) and applications focused on sharing images, videos, and audio files beyond simple text. The article concludes with an assessment of the place of short message service (SMS) in the current mobile communication landscape and directions for future research.
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The effects of texting on human communication are many and varied. Mobile phones afford us the ability to stay connected, to be reached and to reach others from anywhere at any time. The ease, accessibility, and brevity of texting compared to other forms of communication make it ideal for quick exchanges, especially when expediency and efficiency are valued most. However, those same qualities paired with the ubiquity of mobile phones make users prone to misuse the technology (Bianchi & Phillips, 2005). In addition, the pressure of being “always on” (Baron, 2008) has led to its share of negative effects at both the individual and societal level (Baron, 2008; Harper, 2010; Ling, 2004, 2008, 2012; Rosen, 2012; Turkle, 2011). In recent years, public communication campaigns emphasizing the dangers of texting while driving have dominated the media conversation and triggered public opinion and policy debates regarding the use of the technology. Texting while driving has been classified as “a risk to public safety” and a “misuse of the technology” (Pascual-Ferrá, Liu, & Beatty, 2012) and has become one of the issues requiring immediate policy attention in countries around the world (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011; Sloane, 2014; World Health Organization, 2011). As a result, there is growing attention towards the effects of the misuse of texting by pedestrians and cyclists as well. The impact of the misuse of texting on traffic safety, however, is just one of several areas of concern for communication researchers and scholars in other disciplines. Other areas of concern include but are not limited to the effects of the misuse of texting on education and academic achievement, student and adult literacy, health and wellness, privacy and security, workplace productivity, and family and social life, among others. Notwithstanding these concerns, some of which are valid, there are a myriad of novel and positive uses of SMS in the areas of education, health, marketing, political communication, and increased access for people with disabilities and the elderly, among others, that practitioners and researchers have just started to tap into and that counterbalance the overwhelmingly negative portrayals of texting in the media (D.E. Baron, 2009; Crystal, 2008; Tagg, 2012; Wood, Kemp, & Plester, 2014). Rather than presenting a threat to society, these new uses of SMS have opened the door to further research regarding its potential as a medium for social change.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Short Message Service (SMS): A technology pioneered in the 1980s by the European Telecommunication Standards Institute’s (ETSI) Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) group that allows mobile phone users to send and receive text messages up to 160 characters in length.

Texting Language: Refers to the form of shorthand writing often used by many mobile phone users while texting and which is characterized by lexical shortenings, overall brevity, and disregard for accepted rules of grammar and syntax. Other terms commonly used to refer to this form of language include textese , txtspk , and txt talk or txtk .

Messaging Application: A type of mobile application (“mobile app”) that can be downloaded over the Internet to mobile phones and other mobile devices and which allows users to communicate with others via text or multi-media messages, most of the times free of charge.

Texting while Driving: The act of texting while operating a vehicle; it is considered a misuse of the technology and is illegal in many countries around the world. It has been shown to negatively affect driving performance and to be as dangerous as, if not more than, driving while under the influence of alcohol and marihuana.

Text-Walking: The act of texting while walking; it is considered a safety hazard for pedestrians and drivers alike and has been shown to decrease walking speed, negatively affect gait and posture, and increase the incidence of risky pedestrian behaviors such as crossing the street without looking at incoming traffic.

M-Learning or mLearning: Refers to the use of mobile technologies, including SMS and text-based mobile applications, to help achieve educational and learning goals; frequently used as part of distance education and language-learning programs.

Text Messaging or Texting: A form of mobile communication based on SMS technology; it refers to the act of sending and receiving short written or text-based messages through a mobile device.

M-Health or mHealth: Refers to the use of mobile technologies, including SMS and text-based mobile applications, to deliver medical assistance, to promote health awareness and education, provide emotional support, and track patients’ progress and health outcomes, among others.

Technology Misuse: Refers to the use of technology that is excessive or problematic and to the detriment of the user, the recipient, those around them and/or third parties that are not directly involved but who may be affected by it (e.g., using SMS to spread lies about another person).

Text-Bullying: A form of cyberbullying; it is the deliberate misuse of SMS and texting to harass, hurt, or harm another person.

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