The Digital Age of Majority

At 22, I’m probably not quite at the point where I’m allowed to proclaim any sentence that begins “Back in my day…” without raising a few more-seasoned eyebrows. And yet, I really don’t know how else to convey my feelings regarding the sheer scarcity of 13, 14, ump-teen year-olds that aren’t on their second or third cell phone, locked into a contract bearing mom and or dad’s signature (and credit card information). The simple fact is an entire generational schism has occurred in a matter of no more than five years – teenagers are completely wired down with their cordless phones, and even eight years ago, they weren’t.

Now, that being said, the prevalence of cell phones in the real world has similarly experienced an exponential increase over a similar time frame, but the argument could be made that this was inevitable – a working man or woman has a lot to say, and not a lot of time to say it. Indeed, on paper, the cell phone is an absolute must-have for any self-respecting adult human being, with no cultural specification required. But consider another little tidbit about the average adult human – they tend to be employed. That usually implies steady income, and from that, we can deduce that these particular individuals have the means to afford such a costly device and monthly service. Really, it’s no surprise that 90% of US adults have cell phones.

So why should it be any different for teenagers, a group society has perhaps questionably labelled “young adults”? It fits the bill, to be certain – think of the last time you came across a young ruffian approximately fitting this age group, and try to recall as to whether or not they were halfway through reading or typing a text message when you spotted them. In case you can’t quite remember, the answer is yes, they were indeed texting. Teens love texting. In the US, a solid two years ago, they were each averaging about 3,339 texts a month each. There’s no doubt that this age group has taken to the mobile phone revolution. But the tricky part comes in when you’re trying to justify this considerably powerful technology in the hands of what amounts to the least responsible age group on earth.

They probably don't actually do this. Teenagers are allergic to uncool

They probably don’t actually do this. Teenagers are allergic to uncool.

Here’s where it gets a little controversial. In fact, if you were born after 1992, you may want to step out. For the rest of you, recall your teenage years, and specifically, the lack of cell phone. Do you think your childhood suffered in any way because of it? It may be difficult to conceptualize, given at the time, there was little to no such notion of a portable multi-functional communication device (though I’ve heard good things about carrier pigeons). If you’re still with me, do you think it’s possible that we should impose a similar experience on today’s youth? Allow me to justify.

Consider the above statistic – the average teenager sending 3,339 texts a month. That’s approximately 110 a day (even more in February :D). Last I checked, your average teenager is still quarantined approximately five hours of the day in a secondary education institution. So where, exactly, are they finding time to send 110 text messages? Ask absolutely any high school teacher and they’ll tell you – a healthy portion of those are being sent while in class. As if teenagers didn’t have enough to distract them from the wonders of grade nine health class, teachers these days are now competing with a device that can do anything, everything, at increasingly fast speeds. It’s like the old rumour of Polish cavalry charging German tanks, only it happens every day in every school that hasn’t gotten around to taking measures against it – there simply does not exist a large enough chart of the human respiratory system to combat the latest tweets, status updates, and apps. The result? Greater distraction leads to reduced knowledge comprehension and retention. Teenagers are texting their education away.

Now, in devising a counter-argument, one may attempt to justify the social benefits of the cell phone. But, from whose perspective? Certainly teenagers think that text messages are the way to go (refer once more to the above statistic). But it’s believed that texting could be impeding the development of essential verbal communication skills. Think about it – that’s 110 statements a teenager is now sending instead of saying to his peers. High school is a critical environment in the development process of all sorts of real-world skills, and if there’s one that shouldn’t be overlooked, it’s communication. Besides, isn’t it so much easier to have a back and forth conversation face to face, rather than sending, waiting, receiving, replying, on and on until the entire conversation is out? To me, it will always seem so much simpler to just verbalize the conversation, but that’s where the startlingly abrupt schism comes in. Today’s teen has no more to say than yesterday’s, but it seems to me that they have very different ways of saying it.

The third point to this dangerously theoretical argument of mine is a little more niche, but as a statistics major and avid driver, it’s a cornerstone of my reasoning. Now, having recently spent a few years as a teenager myself, I feel more than qualified to make the entirely blunt statement as follows: teenagers are dumb. Ask anyone who has spent time as a teenager and they’ll agree. Different values, less world experience, and a whole lot of varying sources of pressure seem to work together to influence us to be at our absolute least during “the awkward years”. This time period also happens to be when we get to sit behind the wheel of our parents’ ride for the very first time, and set out into one of the most dangerous environments we can put ourselves into on a daily basis. If you’re following, the equation is now inexperienced drivers + technological distractions. Check please.

Because hey, why else would we have peripheral vision, right?

Because hey, why else would we have peripheral vision, right?

In 2010, it’s estimated that 9 for every 10 teenaged drivers in the US regularly engaged in distracted driving through the use of a mobile device. And we’ve all heard the arguments about how distractions affect us while on the road. The government can enact all the regulations they want on this one, but it won’t matter – another quick fact about teenagers is how little they tend to enjoy authoritative compliance.

So there you have it. A quick musing I recently found myself considering that has blossomed into a full-out hypothetical alternate universe in which teenagers are not allowed the use of cell phones. Such a movement is unlikely to ever gain momentum, indeed, the substitution for this far-fetched scenario seems to be attacking each problem without restricting the use of such devices from an entire age group – increased regulations regarding distracted driving, school board policies to prevent overuse of mobile devices in class, and even initiatives to encourage unorthodox education through modern technology. It’s all there, and to some degree, it’s probably working. We can only hope that cellular phone technology’s positive contributions to the development of our most important resource continue to outweigh, or at the very least match, the detrimental effects of these obscenely versatile devices.

Because really, if you ever wanted to take cell phones away from teenagers, first you’d have to get past the networks – they’re less than likely to be fond of cutting off what may be their favourite demographic.

Sigh. Kids these days…

References

Blog.nielsen.com (2010) U.S. Teen Mobile Report: Calling Yesterday, Texting Today, Using Apps Tomorrow | Nielsen Wire. [online] Available at: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/u-s-teen-mobile-report-calling-yesterday-texting-today-using-apps-tomorrow/ [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

CNN Tech (2012) Africa not just a mobile-first continent — it’s mobile only. [online] [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

Digitaljournal.com (2012) 90% of U.S. adults own cell phones – 50% use mobiles to go online. [online] Available at: http://digitaljournal.com/article/327447 [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

Historynet.com (2012) Polish Cavalry Charges Tanks!. [online] Available at: http://www.historynet.com/polish-cavalry-charges-tanks.htm [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

Suite101.com (2011) Teen Texting:  Affecting College Grads’ Communication Skills?. [online] Available at: http://suite101.com/article/communication-skills-lacking-in-college-grads–is-texting-to-bla-a257133 [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

USAtoday.com (2010) Most teens still driving while distracted – USATODAY.com. [online] Available at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-08-02-teendrivers02_ST_N.htm [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

Mediabistro.com (2010) Survey: Socially Networked Teens Also Lead Influence Offline – PRNewser. [online] Available at: http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser/survey-socially-networked-teens-also-lead-influence-offline_b3746 [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

Textually.org (2013) textually.org: Cell Phones while driving/flying/sailing/walking. [online] Available at: http://www.textually.org/textually/archives/cat_cell_phones_while_drivingflyingsailing.htm [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

YouTube (2012) Teenage Cell Phone Addiction- Cell Phones. [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t8aYpgiX-w [Accessed: 31 Jan 2013].

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