by Raju Peddada
[Author's note: I am sure it's not just me. As you pan around at a stop light, you see almost everyone busy with their "personal vibrators." No, it's not what you think, and I know exactly what you are capable of thinking, as you read this. It is that ubiquitous multitasking device called the Cell phone. A device that enables you to live a phlegmatic voyeuristic lifestyle, engaging in a kind of private, yet public masturbation of the senses. The text masseurs of today are like the junkies of the '60s, reminding me of their spastic scramble to light up their addiction at the parks, street corners, alleys, bus and train stops, or in their cars, rolling up to inhale their own miasma. Text messaging is the new drug. In fact, people using this technology are the "insiders" now, so involved with their vibratory pleasures that all interactions with us, the outsiders, had been rendered inconvenient, perfunctory, and deranged.]
(Swans - August 15, 2011) What made me write this article is not the fascination, but the consternation. I am somebody who thrives in the labyrinthine prose meandering of 100-word (doors, in my estimation) sentences, opening up other worlds, purveyed by the likes of Robert Burton, Laurence Sterne, or a Thomas Mann. Text messaging is anathema to my being -- I get repulsed by this furtively infantile and schizophrenic activity. In fact, and lately, my blood comes to a boil more frequently than I wish for, and I don't need a shrink to explicate what the problem is. It is the people who drive while text messaging, suddenly drifting into my lane without notice, standing still at the green light, going 25 mph in a 55 zone, or all the near misses I was able to avoid.
In fact, a texting driver brings out the "Wez" in me. Wez is the character played by Vernon Wills in that 1981 post-apocalyptic cinematic gem by George Miller, "The Road Warrior." Wez happens to be that Mohawk character with feathers and a shoulder harness, the leather-clad biker, who plays the lieutenant to Lord Humungus. The Wez character is the personification of psychotic malevolence. He is a snarling brute, an epic amplification of evil road-rage, riding four cylinders on two burning rubbers, tooled with a medieval ax, ready to eviscerate anyone who as much as even dares to muster an eye contact. Wez is that infernal Jekyll, "hyding" in me when I am on the road as I fantasize about terrorizing the texting-driving desperadoes. However, technology is never the villain; it is always the abusive user.
The first ever military cryptographic devise was the Spartan "Scytale" dating from the 5th century BC. A wooden cylindrical staff, like a baton, with many facets like an octagon, which was wound up with strips of leather or parchment with a letter on each facet. Only the targeted recipient knew how to align the letters on the staff to make sense of the encryption. Julius Caesar wrote to Valerius Probus frequently, in fact almost twice or thrice a day in secret, from the field. Probus eventually ended up writing a copious treatise on the ciphers of Caesar, over two thousand years ago. Caesar might have been the original cryptographic textor in the Western technological lore. The contemporary cryptographic device is the cell phone. We can encrypt a plain text message in "Mono-alphabetic Substitution Cipher" -- letters substituting letters or words, aimed at confusing those for which they are not intended. With the diffusion of our modern cryptographic device, the cell phone, everyone it seems, has a closet life, a secret friend, fiendish fetishes, and illicit liaisons.
I don't want to bore you with mountainous details on the S.M.S (Short Message Service) technology that serves 2.4 billion users, 74% of all mobile device subscribers, but we need to know the basics. The S.M.S concept was an offshoot from G.S.M (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) technology. It was presented in December of 1982 by the Franco-German affiliation of Friedhelm Hillenbrand and Bernard Ghillebaert. The concept allowed S.M.S to use the telephony-system lines to transport messages on the signaling paths needed to control telephone traffic, when no signaling traffic existed. This optimized the resources to transport messages at a minimal cost. Therefore, it was crucial to restrict the message length to 128 bytes, later improving to 140 bytes, equivalent to 160 seven-bit characters, so that messages could fit into the existing signaling formats.
This little-known text messaging concept from the late 20th century exploded into a 21st century global communication phenomenon. Today, there are detractors to this tech marvel that has devolved into a dangerous distraction, but the freedom, inherent and intrinsic in text messages and twittering, has put many an illegitimate regime on notice. A cell phone driven by this technology enables rapid simultaneous communication and congregation, a perfect little device for protest and instant propaganda, to say the least. The good here is equaled, if not outweighed, by the bad and ugly.
Here are some numbers that shed light on this "distraction." Forty-six percent of teens text while driving; actually, more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. The average teen sends 3,339 text messages per month. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging distracted drivers for an average of 4.6 seconds, long enough to travel the length of a football field at 55 mph. The average teen in the U.S. texts and receives an average of 2,899 messages per month while driving. A study conducted by the Automobile Association of America and Seventeen Magazine revealed that 46% of the 61% of the riskiest drivers send text messages while driving. The study also claimed that 48% of young Americans aged 12-17 years old had been in a car being driven by an adult who was text messaging. Paul Green, research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, manifestly sees this as a burgeoning transportation problem.
How exigent are these text messages? What are the earth-shattering ideas exchanged? Why is it so addictive that drivers risk their lives doing it, not to mention those who are not doing it? While 70% Americans send at least one text message a day, the average cell subscriber in Ireland sends 5 texts, in England it is 6 per subscriber, South Korea at 10 per user, Singapore at 12 each, and Philippines at a prostituting 15 text messages on an average, per user. Now let's look at a representative sampling of 89% of the "urgent" text messages that proliferate on our airwaves, causing traffic nightmares:
"I said no to drugs, but they did not listen!"
"Reality is an illusion that is born out of the shortage of alcohol."
"If my head looks like yours, I'd shave my rear end and walked on my hands."
"I never forget a face, but for you I'll make an exception."
"Why did the farmer win the Nobel Prize? Because, he stood out in his field, duh."
Here are some more texts I have culled for our perusal, from a wireless company site, on drivers text messaging while in dense traffic. You can decipher the texting entity's gender easily here. Again, messages while driving that put you and me at risk.
"How is the woman like a condom? Both spend more time in your wallet than on your dick."
"What's a male chauvinist pig? A guy who hates every bone in a woman's body, except his own."
"How can you spot a blind guy at the nudist camp? It's not hard."
"How can you tell a head nurse? She's the one with the dirty knees."
"What do a clitoris, an anniversary, and a toilet have in common? Men always miss them."
"Why is the penis the lightest thing in the world? Even a thought can raise it."
These are the type of text messages that permeate our airwaves. It is a social sickness without peer, only because of the risks involved. In fact, I am resolutely convinced that text messaging has induced the mitosis of some pretty twisted social behavior, not only among the predictable perverts, pedophiles, and professionals, but also prepubescent kids, teens, young adults, and even full adults. Text messaging has become an "opaque tool" that eliminates inhibition, bashfulness, and moral limits, urging on our base tendencies and lewd impulses into actions. I am certain we would find an inordinate increase in infidelity, promiscuity, and pornography due in part to these "convenient" devices. Also, the codified language in text messages covers the user with "plausible deniability." Text messaging devices give the user a paradoxical public privacy that is almost subversive and illicit.
Psychologist Cecilia Holguin of the University of Texas Counseling Center reports that cell phones and their text messaging technology have been eroding and ruining social interaction, writing skills, and expression to a great extent. Rudeness also has reached its Everest, when people continue to text while in the company of others. Students are also losing the taste for great prose, overlooking seminal literary works, requiring patience and immersion, only to consume byte-sized books of factoids and snippets. Professor Frank Perez, at the University of Texas in El Paso, dolefully acknowledges "distracted" students in all his classes. The cell phone has virtually destroyed the thrill and suspense of meeting strangers. The incessant user, only involved with self, had become an incestuous cryptographic masturbator, further intensifying his or her narcissism.
On the other safe bank, I speculate that Mr. Bryan A Garner, the lord of lexicon and the vicar of vocabulary, is already busy collecting and assembling the new "language" of the 21st century, to issue forth a new dictionary entitled Modern Textors Usage. The necessity to communicate in emoticons, punctuation marks, numbers, truncated and hyphenated capitals, acronyms, and substituted letters for words, is to speed up our escape to our closets. This short hand is already a cryptographic art form, full of intrigue, like: BJ@TL;-)0): "I'll give you a blow job at the library?" or DiHT-LM@M ;-)): "Dick is here tomorrow, let's meet at the Motel."
Finally, all this advancement may be great, but we have to dredge a way, technologically, to institute and enforce policing and fines on people who text message while driving. This calls for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to float a tender, inviting premier Tech institutions to create a system that polices violators, without an additional police force. Perhaps something that involves a transponder that links the car microprocessor to the cell phone texting capability and the policing authority. A sequential electronic control that triggers a citation plus a heavy fine on the violator as sequenced here: the violator-driver text messaging --> FCC car transponder --> Policing authority --> The court issuing the citation, levy and collection of the fine via the violator's cell phone bill. All done electronically, without any physical intervention of the police officer. The solution is there, but is there the will?
People who text message while driving are essentially juvenile delinquents. Have we lost the capacity to discern where and how to pursue our activities? Or, have we become mentally incontinent, inversely senile in our youth, to the extent that we cannot control our bowel musculature, and let this texting diarrhea soil our driving experience? Instead of having a peaceful reverie, reflecting and musing while driving, I drive around in a screeching and grating alertness, triggered to boil over with murderous rage, which I am afraid will transform me into the Michael Douglas character in "Falling Down."
Adults are losing their capacity to be at peace and secure within themselves, they are laden with tech gizmos on their belts, even at home, that render them jittery, comic-like characters, moving about at 16 frames a second, all in the name of what?! Are we the masters of technology, or slaves to it? Constant chatter and relentless distractions 24/7 leave no time to really grow up, and develop the capacity to read something like The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen or The Magic Mountain. We remain infantile, tethered to our electronic toys, incapable of mature discernment and restraint.
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About the Author
Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines. (back)