By Suzie Vyletel
Utopia: an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. Google utopia, and you will find this definition along with a chart that shows how the use of this word has increased as of late. Why might this be? Has the concept of utopia become more fascinating because it has become more tangible and accessible since the technological revolution? Possibly. I want to examine text messaging and whether or not it has utopian potential for our world.
Text messaging has been around for so long that I don’t even consider it “new media” in the way that I consider iPads and virtual reality “new media.” I mean, at the basic level, text messages follow the Shannon-Weaver model of communication:
In reality, text messages imply a lot more than increasing the distance possible between the sender and receiver. The sender behind the message is basically reduced to a number. Your phone number is not biased (let’s not get into the socioeconomic implications of certain area codes)–it reveals almost nothing about you. From a phone number, someone can not tell anything about the owner’s age, sex, gender, socioeconomic status, race, etc. Everyone is on the same playing field! Communication is not sexist, racist, or judgmental. Text messaging is senders and receivers, devices and minds behind them. There is no discrimination, each message comes from a 7-digit place of neutrality and equality, taken at face value and the only thing considered is the message itself. Text messaging transcends physical limits–while abroad in Rome last semester, I could text my family and friends time zones away in the states. Text messaging only requires basic literacy–if you can formulate words and read them, you can text. Isn’t this utopia?
Is it? Or is this the utopian view of text messages, provided that the state of utopia for communication is completely unbiased and democratized? What about the other implications of text messaging, the ones that make it utterly dystopian? What about the “good old days” where the phone rang and, not knowing who was calling, each call had an equal chance of being picked up because there was no way to discriminate?
http://youtu.be/0gGXylVz6KI (the embed video option is apparently not available, so please visit this link to a 50 second YouTube clip!)
Text messaging, for all of its equality, is not 100% equal. For instance, I could attribute a name to a phone number, so that when I receive a text message from that person, I know who it is and can either read it or delete it. I can block numbers so that not everyone has an equal opportunity to communicate with me. Text messages are also usually limited. Even supposedly “unlimited texting” plans do have a limit, and once it is reached, this form of communication is unavailable. Text messaging is only available to those with a cell phone, and if that person cannot afford a large texting plan, they may rely on wifi connections which are free at some public places like Starbucks, but exclusionary elsewhere (must be a paying customer/registered guest at a hotel/member of the organization/etc.).
Text messaging is easy–but maybe too easy? Many of us have been burned by texting while angry/drinking, a problem that didn’t used to exist in the days of snail mail. The process of handwriting letters took so long that emotions simmered down and thought was put into what was said, whereas today’s instant communication and irreversible “send” button tend to inflame situations. How many arguments have been had, friendships ruined, kids busted, spouses turned jealous, by texting? Is this really utopia?
I guess the question to ask is whether the good outweigh the bad. Do you value the convenience of texting more than the potential hazards? If texting is dystopian, was it always this way? Or has recent technology aggravated the pitfalls of texting? What do you think?