Is “texting” an addiction?

Unless you recently landed here on this planet, you’re probably aware that text messaging (also known as SMS or short message service) is a relatively new way to communicate using a cell phone. Abbreviated phrases and words are ‘typed’ out on the keys and instantly transmitted to the recipient’s cell phone screen. For some, it has become a primary method of communication. Given the apparent need of some people to stay relentlessly ‘in touch,’ mental health experts are asking if texting can become an addiction.

In response to recent research suggesting an ‘inherent’ risk for abuse of texting, author and online mental health expert John M. Grohol, Psy.D., says, ‘Inherent. Well, that’s such a generalization, it could be made about anything. The potential for abuse of the phone is inherent. The potential for abuse of one’s friendships is inherent. The potential for abuse of getting really into any hobby you enjoy is inherent. By definition, something we enjoy doing is usually not a problem, no matter how much you do it or how much other people think you’re crazy for doing it so much. Look at how much athletes work out for instance. Are they addicted to working out, or is it something that is rewarding to them’?’

The mental health fields generally assume that for something to be an addiction, it must interfere with your basic functioning. If the excessive behavior prevents you from doing things that are important to your well being, then you have a problem. If you lose your job because of it, you’re addicted. If it ruins your relationships with family and friends, you’re addicted. If you fail to fully achieve your potential because of the activity, you might also be addicted.

A lot of young people engage in heavy doses of texting. Research has found that great numbers of teenagers cannot stand to be away from their phones, primarily so they can send and receive text messages. Some adults are the same way, even risking their lives while attempting to text and drive and at the same time.

Is text messaging replacing speech and writing? In this age of misspelling and bad grammar, could it be that some people are so used to text messaging that they’ve forgotten the art of putting together a real sentence? In spite of all that, however, I question whether texting is all that bad. I know young people who don’t say or write much, while I know others who are quite articulate. Probably all of them text message. We tend to blame technology for every last problem, but I blame intellectual maladies NOT on texting or cell phones, but rather on lack of reading and the lack of thinking.

My major concern about text messaging is the potential for speaking on impulse. Texting is great for convenience. I’m not against having significant conversations via text messaging when a better option isn’t available. But just like with email, you have to be careful. It’s so easy to say (write) something—especially in anger or haste—that might feel good, but that you’ll regret later. For some, the ease of texting becomes an excuse for blurting out whatever comes into their mind without having to deal with the immediate consequences of someone being right there in the room with them.

It’s not just the cell phones. Speaking on impulse is a human error, not a technological one. I don’t think people become ‘addicted’ to objects so much as addicted to bad habits that suit a purpose in the moment. Speaking on impulse is one of the biggest mistakes people make. They don’t give themselves time to carefully choose their words. They speak in a hostile and defensive tone, thus eliminating any validity to what they’re saying. In doing so, they show little respect for themselves or the one to whom they’re speaking (or texting). This is just fine if you don’t care to maintain ties with that person. But assuming you do, you can ask forgiveness—and probably get it—but you’ll never know if it’s sincere. The more this happens, the more respect will erode.

Silence IS sometimes golden. We don’t HAVE to be in constant touch. Maybe it’s OK to have a moment or two when we choose not to say anything. Even in the big-mouthed age of Oprah, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann and the like, unexpressed thoughts still have their place. Closeness is nice, but so is solitary time. If there is an addictive aspect to texting, it’s the false belief that being out of touch or (horror of horrors) having an unexpressed thought—even for five lonely minutes—is somehow a catastrophe.

A compulsive desire to not be alone can lead to impulsive behavior. So, in this high-strung age of quick communication, think before you text. Think before you email. Write with your head, not just with your momentary feelings.

If our words matter, we have to stand by them. Yes, we can (maybe) take them back, but we can never truly unsay them. And they’ll always leave their mark.