One of the reasons I don’t own a cell phone is that I know I’d become badly addicted to texting. On a recent episode of Bill Moyers and Company, MIT Professor and developmental psychologist Sherry Turkle talked about “the seduction” of “the sweetness of something new that’s coming to us on our phone . . . the neurochemical hit of instant connection.”
Turkle and Moyers also talked about the recent case of a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide in response to being cyberbullied. When Moyers floated the thought that the poor girl could have simply turned off or put down her phone, Turkle snapped, “No, she couldn’t. . . . the phone had become her lifeline . . . being part of her social world meant keeping on the phone.”
Watching the interview, I related to the “neurochemical hit” but not to the vulnerability Turkle described, until a few days later.
I used to send out little essays, similar to these blog entries (and in some cases identical) as an e-newsletter to friends and associates who subscribed through my business website, marcwordsmith.com. I sent one out last week, and checked the subscription service a day or two later to see how many were actually opened. To my horror, I saw that four old friends—albeit people I have not seen for quite some time—had unsubscribed from the newsletter.
It sounds absurd, I know, but I was deeply hurt. Even if these particular friendships were not currently active, why would these individuals choose to reject me like this? Was it so awful getting an occasional newsletter from me, were they so turned off by me that they actually had to click the unsubscribe link?
To my great relief, I discovered that this had not been the case, after I explored the information on the subscription service website a bit more thoroughly. Rather, these old friends had been automatically unsubscribed, because emails to them had bounced. It took me the better part of an hour to ascertain this, and it made an absolutely enormous difference in my day.
Even though I haven’t spoken to any of these friends in months, if not years, and even though the “interaction” that I imagined had occurred was completely cyber—and indirect at that—I had been devastated. Maybe I’m overly sensitive. Maybe this signifies that I DEFINITELY should never get a cell phone. But apart from what it may indicate about me specifically, I believe it underscores Sherry Turkle’s point about the awesome emotional power of messaging technology and social media.
A group of Turkle’s students at MIT even admitted that they texted during her classes. Turkle recounted: “Basically, they said, ‘We are not as strong as technology’s pull.’”
I cannot quite imagine the pain of being an adolescent and receiving a continual barrage of putdowns and insults from my peers through the intimate medium of my personal phone, but I get that it would be utterly overwhelming, and I grieve for that girl. I understand how she could have lost all perspective on what truly mattered and what possibilities her future might hold.
Just another reminder, I guess, to be kind, even on the keypad.