There's a new campus-wide cell phone policy in place at my school effective this academic year. It's nothing earth shatteringly new, only that by making it 100% official we faculty can send a student to the equivalent of the principal's office for being caught more than twice texting in class.
Despite all this, there are one or two students in every class I teach who just.can.not bear to be parted with their cell phone for even one second, let alone a fifty-minute time period. I catch them, their phones flipped open in their laps under their desks, fingers straying to those tiny tempting keys...It's like an addiction, it really is.
"What's so important you can't get through class without one single text message?" I often ask them.
"You just don't understand," they almost always tell me. Apart from making me feel really old, that comment also makes me wonder what I would do if cell phones and texting had been so available and popular back in those prehistoric days when I was a college undergrad. Would I have tuned out lectures to stay on top of the latest happy hour plans? Would I be sending funny pictures back and forth to friends in between classes, or posting Facebook updates to friends during freshman comp? Downloading music in the elevator?
Maybe. I don't know. But the need my students seem to have for this constant, immediate, code-like form of communication baffles me, it really does. Students busily text in the elevator, fingers flying. I see their eyes dart down to their laps during class and I know when I walk past them I'll see an open phone on their knees. Even as I look at them, ready to offer my standard "put your phone away" they just won't be able to help themselves--a single finger will dart out, they'll punch the send key, then sit nervously, hoping I'll go away.
On Friday I was on my way to pick up T. from school when my cell phone rang. It was a good friend from graduate school--a friend I've stayed in touch with all this time, despite geography, despite the passage of years, despite our busy lives as mothers. Not only do we stay in touch over e-mail and Facebook, but we talk on the telephone. After I hung up with her it struck me that lack of regular phone conversation with friends has been a great loss in my life. I used to be a real phone person. I was that clichéd high school girl who hogged the phone at my house, and who sometimes watched a TV show with a girlfriend on the other end of the line. When Scott and I were first dating, and we lived in different states, we would spend hours--hours!--on the phone together. What would we do now? I wonder. Text each other non-stop? Pass notes and photos back and forth between our Facebook pages?
I miss talking to friends over the phone. Nowadays, when I need to reach out to someone, I send an e-mail, rather than pick up the phone to call. Part of this is because I know my friends are busy, juggling a million different things and then some, and I'm afraid of imposing. But another part of it is sheer lack of commitment on my part: not to the friendship, but to the time it might take for me to take a break, sit down, and have a conversation.
A friend once mentioned to me that she was loving her text message plan on her new cell phone. This way, she told me, she doesn't have to pick up the phone and call anyone, she can just text them whenever she wants. I didn't think much about it at the time (I've sent maybe three text messages in the whole time I've owned a cell phone) but the more I do think about it now the more I realize that text-messaging is a conversation cop-out. It's a way of getting us out of committing ourselves to an actual dialogue with another person; to the art of the give and take, the consideration of that voice on the other end of the telephone, the spontaneous jokes, or heartfelt expressions of emotion that might come out of an actual conversation.
"What is it about text-messaging?" I asked a student--a repeat offender in that department--yesterday when he slunk into my office to retrieve his notebook. "Why can't you just put the phone away?"
"I like to stay in touch," he told me, his hand wrapped lovingly around his iPhone, one white ear bud dangling from his right ear. "But I don't like to have to talk to people."