Lentis/The Text Effect

Technologies such as text messaging increase convenience and efficiency, but carry with them unintended risks.



In 1984 Global System for Mobile Communications invented the text message [1] On December 3, 1992, Neil Papworth sent the first text message from his computer to Richard Jarvis’ phone and it said, “Merry Christmas.” [2] Just eight years later, the texting craze began in the United States. The average text messages sent per month rose from 0.4 messages per month in 1995 to 35 messages per month in 2000.[3] Text messaging has been escalating since 2000 with new and better technology coming out all the time.

Texting DemographicsEdit

Although texting affects all age ranges in the United States, the largest group texting is 13 to 17 years of age, or teenagers. [4] The average American teen sent 3,339 text messages per month in 2010, as compared to 191 phone calls per month. Teen females drive up that average, at 4,050 texts per month. There has been a 611% increase in the number of text messages sent per month in three years. While safety was the main reported reason teens got cell phones in 2008, today, the ability to text outranks both safety and the ability to contact friends or family by phone.[5]

The next age demographic (18-24 years) sends less than half the texts of teenagers, at 1,630 per month. In all groups under age 55, voice usage of cell phones is declining while text messaging is increasing. [6]

Because of this sudden increase in texting especially among teenagers, there is great concern. Although text messaging provides benefits such as convenience and efficiency in communication, there may be risks that are not being taken into account by users such as learning, health, and privacy affects.

Learning EffectsEdit

The changing use of English in text messaging may affect language development.


Texting has spurred the development of its own language, referred to as “textese” or “txtspk.” In the interest of convenience, text users shorten or substitute words for brevity, and to maximize content in 160 characters. The online texting dictionary NetLingo includes 2,039 different texting acronyms and shorthand.[7] Usage is prevalent enough that the 2011 Oxford English dictionary included LOL, OMG, FYI, IMHO, BFF, and ♥. [8] The main three categories of textese are:

homophones: replacing parts of words with letters or numbers that sound the same

gr8 'great,' RU 'are you'

initials: replacing a phrase with a group of letters

ROFL 'rolling on the floor laughing'

omissions: dropping "non-essential" letters when spelling words

wud 'would'

Language DevelopmentEdit

While teens send the most text messages, the younger half of this group is shown to be the most accepting of textese. This invites concern as the adolescent age group is also still learning grammar in the middle school setting. [9] Studies by Wake Forest and Penn State show a negative correlation between the increased use of textese and scores on standardized grammar tests, controlling for age and grade. The effect was more exaggerated in younger students than the college age demographic.[10]. The same effect has been shown in studies in Finland,[11] Sweden,[12] and Great Britain.[13] Poor grammar scores in the Wake Forest study were predicted by total textese in texts both sent and received. This suggests that parents can negatively impact their children's language development in their own use of textese.

Texting also has an impact on vocabulary. A University of Calgary study found that those who text more are less accepting of the use of new words, as opposed to those who primary read print media. Students are exposed to greater variety of language in traditional print media than peer-to-peer texting. [14]

In contrast, other studies have shown a positive effect on reading comprehension and varied sentence structure with number of text messages sent per month. Only 47% of teachers in a University of Alabama study reported seeing textese appear in their students' writing in school. [15] Similiary, texting has been shown to have no effect on capitalization and punctuation in formal writing, including the multiple punctuation common in texting (e.g., what??!!!).[16]

As text messaging is a rather new technology, more studies are needed to show conclusive effects of texting on language development.

Health EffectsEdit

Texting is an integral part of everyday life, but it has health risks not always considered including insomnia, anxiety, depression, and carpal tunnel.


Untreated Carpal Tunnel

Insomnia is a risk of text messaging. A study done in November 2010 found the adolescents aged 8 to 22 years are being woken up at least once per night because of a text message or phone call, and they are sending or receiving an average of 33.5 text messages per night.[17] Another study found that college students are losing an average of 45 minutes per week of precious sleep due to cellphone usage in the middle of the night. [18] The both lack of sleep and the interruption of necessary REM sleep cycles can lead to drowsiness, lack of productivity, and even physical effects such as lowered blood sugar, memory impairment, and weakened immune system. [19]

Anxiety and DepressionEdit

Another health risk is emotional encompassing both anxiety and depression caused by cell phone usage. A study done in South Korea found there to be a direct correlation between cell phone usage and how a person is feeling. The more a person uses their cell phone, the more depressed that person feels and the lower self-esteem that person possesses. [20] Sherry Turkle, a psychoanalyst in human-interaction focusing on technology usage, said, “Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved…constant connection is changing the way people think about themselves.” In a recent TED talk she discusses how the constant need to be connected is actually causing more loneliness and depression among people. She said that without the ability to disconnect and have true alone time, that this loneliness and depression will only continue and become worse. [21]

Carpal Tunnel SyndromeEdit

The most frightening health risk is the rise of carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel is caused by small repetitive movements much like texting.[22] The former president of the American Society of Hand Therapist (ASHT) Donna Breger Stanton has said, “Handheld electronics may require prolonged grips, repetitive motion on small buttons and awkward wrist movements. This combination can lead to an increased susceptibility to hand, wrist and arm ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.”[23] Virgin Mobile released a statement in February of 2006 warning users of the risks of repetitive texting causing carpal tunnel or other hand or wrist pains. The website, www.practisesafetext.com, was even released by Virgin Mobile to raise awareness. [24]

Texting while driving

Secondary Health EffectsEdit

There are also secondary health effects including injuring oneself due to walking while texting and driving while texting. [25]

Unfortunately, because of the recent increase in texting, there is little conclusive research done so far regarding the health effects.


A study[26] showed that about 80% of its participants considered their mobile devices private, some even comparing the reading of another persons text messages as equivalent to going through someone's mail. Text messages are generally perceived as private and this perception often exposes people to various privacy risks.

Phone Spy ApplicationsEdit

The evolution of technology has led to an increase in creation of applications and websites that can perform formerly impossible tasks. Recently, there has been an increasing availability of phone spy applications. These are applications that allow you to spy on your significant other's/child's/employee's location, emails, text messages and much more. The methods of spying vary. Applications such as mobile spy require you to create an online account, which when you log in has a full record of calls (incoming,outgoing and duration) and text messages (sent and received) of the person you are spying on. Other apps such as ephonetracker and sms secret replicator[27] send the data to your email address or phone. However,one thing is common, all these apps can be secretly downloaded onto the phone you wish to track without the owner's knowledge.

Although most applications have disclaimers such as, "It is a federal and state offense in most countries to install monitoring/surveillance software onto a phone which you do not own or have proper authorization to install. It may also be an offense in your jurisdiction to monitor the activities of other individuals...You must always notify a person they are being monitored if they are over age 18"[28], there is no way to ensure these rules are followed.

Cell Phone CarriersEdit


The Kilpatrick text message scandal was a controversial case for many reasons, most of which was the 14,000 text messages,that were sent between Ex Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his chief of staff Christine Beatty. The exposure of these texts caused users to wonder if their previous messages were stored by their phone carriers[29]. The answer: it varies. Service providers such as SkyTel,used by Kilpatrick and Beatty,retain a database of messages sent[30]. However, most of the top carriers do not retain text message content at all.[31] As of 2010, records show that Verizon keeps text content for up to 5 days [32] while Virgin Mobile holds them for up to 90 days.[33].All major carriers however, keep text details with AT&T saving them for up to 7 years.[34]

Supreme Court and Text PrivacyEdit

The Supreme Court case of the City of Ontario vs. Quon involved Police Sergeant Jeff Quon suing the city because he believed his first amendment rights were violated when his boss went through his text messages. The case received attention because according to Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, N.J., it was the first case to involve communication technology[35]. The supreme courts final verdict was that the city's search of Quon's phone was not a violation of the 4th amendment because it was work-related.[36][37] However, the court was unable to fully address the broader issue of communication privacy[38] but they hinted on how they would address it saying "The Court must proceed with care when considering the whole concept of privacy expectations in communications made on electronic equipment owned by a government employer...Rapid changes in the dynamics of communication and information transmission are evident not just in the technology itself but in what society accepts as proper behavior."

It is difficult to have a definite law/rule of privacy with text messages because opinions vary by user and circumstance.

The Text Effect in SocietyEdit

The risks of texting emerge when it becomes a replacement for our prior behaviors. This phenomenon can be extended to other convenience and efficiency technologies in a trend called the "Text Effect."

5-hour EnergyEdit

The producer does not disclose the amount of caffeine in this energy supplement. While 5-hour Energy is a convenient replacement for sleep in the short term, its safety is in question. It has been named in 90 filings with the FDA, including 13 deaths, as well as heart attacks and a spontaneous abortion. [39] Emergency room visits due to energy drinks increased ten times from 2005 to 2009. [40]

Credit CardsEdit

Long a target of identify theft, credit cards have become both more convenient and more risky with the addition of Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. RFID chips allows consumers to pay by simply waving their card in front of a reader, but can also allow their information to be intercepted and stolen [41].

Auto CorrectEdit

Spell checking and word-prediction allow for more efficient texting. But the risks of relying on this convenience technology are widely seen in the "Damn You Auto Correct" social meme.


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