Are you a textaholic?

On July 5, Massachusetts became the 29th state to ban texting behind the wheel: an extreme albeit necessary precaution. I, like many of my peers, groaned in disgust at the creation of yet another opportunity for cops to pull me over and slap on expensive fines. However, since reading the full article and others about our generation’s texting obsession, I’ve begun to see more clearly the need to unplug, at least for the short time I spend in my car.

We all joke about being slightly addicted to our cell phones. As my colleague, Amy Erickson, pointed out in her post entitled “Confessions of a Smartphone Addict,” there are now even rehab centers you can check yourself into to “detox” from the wireless world. When I first read this, I thought the idea ludicrous. “Rehab centers are for people with serious mental illnesses,” I said to myself, “Not for people who text too much.”

Wrong again. Excessive texting has become a mental illness. As it turns out, there are a plethora of consequences that can result from our society’s constant need to stay connected. A recent study of Australian teens conducted by Jennie Carroll, a researcher at the University of Melbourne, observed youth communication habits and identified a set of four serious physical and mental disorders caused by excessive texting – textaphrenia, textiety, post-traumatic text disorder and binge texting. I wish I was kidding. 

The four disorders are characterized by a variety of different symptoms. Textaphrenics are individuals who believe they’ve heard a message come in or felt their phone vibrate when it actually hasn’t, while textiety is characterized by the anxious feeling of not receiving any texts or not being able to send any. Those diagnosed with post-traumatic text disorder suffer physical or mental injuries following texting, specifically walking into walls or “repetitive thumb syndrome,” when your thumbs grow too long as a result of texting. Binge texters send multiple texts or mass texts in order to attract responses and feel accepted in their peer group.

This article served as a kind of wake-up call for me. What started as an invention of convenience and security has now morphed into an obsession so severe it is causing users physical and mental distress. I immediately panicked, wondering if that time last week I thought my phone had rung when it hadn’t meant I was bound to become a textaphrenic and would be shipped off to rehab before the summer’s end. I took soothing breaths and tried to relax, convincing myself that the imagined vibration was probably just someone else’s phone nearby. I was too sane for smartphone rehab. But then I read the Boston Globe’s article on the new texting while driving ban and felt myself groan with disappointment. I took a moment to reflect. What did it mean that I dreaded a 20 minute car ride with no access to my phone? Better yet, what did it mean that state governments have been forced to pass laws prohibiting us from being connected via mobile device while driving? We all know the danger, can feel our cars swerve precariously into the next lane as our fingers fly across the keyboard in response to that long awaited “what’s up” text, and yet we ignore what we know is life-threatening in favor of being able to answer our friends with a simple “nothing much, you?”

This has all made me wonder if maybe we could all do with a little smartphone rehab. I can only imagine the uproar if cell phones, like cigarettes before them, were to become banned from the workplace, restaurants and other public spaces. But what if, like cigarettes, mobile phones are actually becoming detrimental to our lives and the lives of those around us? What if we need laws and regulations to put in place guidelines that we should be able to follow on our own? Perhaps society’s addiction to mobile devices is so strong that it cannot be broken without a little government enforcement. Or, as The Washington Post's Donna St. George points out in her front page article "On family beach vacations, text-loving teens stay plugged in" sometimes parents are forced to pry cell phones out of their children's hands.

Granted, texting isn’t quite as hazardous as nicotine, but the fact that we’ve all been warned of its dangers and still continue to ignore these precautions is extremely reminiscent of the cigarette phase. While I don’t see cell phones becoming banned or decreasing at all in popularity in the coming years, I do think the new texting while driving law is a step in the right direction. Though I know the habit will be a hard one to break, I’m looking forward to relaxing in the car and listening to the radio, just like back in the good old days.

-Contributed by Brittany Hughes. Follow her @brithughes14