The following editorial was published Thursday in the
La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune:
As our ability to communicate instantly - anytime, anyplace - races ahead, our sense of personal space, of boundaries, diminishes.
That might seem a small price to pay for the conveniences and increased productivity offered by this wired environment. And it's a price we can easily enough avoid by turning off our phones now and again, by neglecting our social networking websites for a few days, by ignoring that Twitter feed.
But the world has been a wired one long enough that we are now watching the maturation of the first generation for whom a world without constant cell phone access and ubiquitous text messaging is unimaginable.
And that environment has its dangers.
As though "sexting" weren't enough, the Washington Post this week reported about a dark trend in the world of instant communication: Textual harassment is on the rise.
Our phones have given the abusive partner and the stalker a new tool. And while harassing text messages can be used as evidence in charging offenders and obtaining restraining orders, sometimes a tragic outcome transpires before the abusive texter can be stopped. The Post story cited murders of young women in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, killings preceded by repeated harassing and threatening text messages, sometimes hundreds of them.
A curious behavioral marker of wired Americans in the late 1990s and early 2000s was the lonely-in-a-crowd pacing of cell phone users at building entrances - stores, schools, businesses, bars - trying to get some semblance of reception. And the standard posture of the fashionably wired today is head down, shoulders perhaps slightly hunched, thumbs a-flyin', oblivious to the physical world around them. And it has been popular, of late, to worry about the state of our attention spans, our capacity for contemplative thought, our ability to sustain considered, substantive communication.
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Would that those worries - and they're legitimate ones - were the only dangers. It turns out that texting culture also has dangers that can be quite physical.
Our communications technology facilitates impulsive behavior and keeps it private. In the case of teens whose ideas of boundaries have been shaped by being available for texting 24/7, when that impulsive behavior becomes unwelcome or abusive, too often the victims recognize the danger too late or are reluctant to reach out for help.
Until nearly every teen carried his or her own phone, abusive behavior wasn't as private: No teenage boy with any sense called a girl 10 or 20 times in a night.
But now such behavior can slip under parental radar. Even peers can be unaware of a friend's victimization.
So it's up to all of us to impress on teens and young adults the importance of establishing legitimate boundaries, limits we will enforce for our own well-being.
That it's not healthy for a partner to insist on constant updates about our whereabouts and about the company we're keeping.
That threatening messages are unlawful.
That repeated unwelcome text messages are indeed harassment.