A new study from the University of Winnipeg concludes that students that text more than 100 times per day are more likely to place importance on image and wealth, more likely to display ethnic prejudice, and are less likely to aspire for an ethical life.
So, why aren’t parents everywhere confiscating their children’s telephones to create a more ethical, less prejudiced society? Probably because attributing these behaviors to texting is a very simplified way to look at a more complex problem.
What is the baseline for shallow?
In high school, I remember writing notes to my girlfriend where the bulk of the text was the word “so” with an excessive number of antecedent “o”s. I miss you soooooooo much. There wasn’t a lot of thoughtfulness to those notes, just an overabundance of vowels fueled by teenage hormones. If you asked me about how much I aspired to an ethical life after writing those notes, I suppose I might have answered soooooooo much. Point being, teenagers probably aren’t the best bellwether for existential questions.
Also consider that more than a million people buy Vogue’s September Issue to see what fashion trends they should be following. Nearly every singer and actor you hear and see are extraordinarily attractive. Jewel wrote the best-selling poetry book of all time. We are enveloped by artifice with much of it directed at teenagers. Texting didn’t create or perpetuate it – so what’s to say that this shallowness wasn’t present before texting existed?
The purpose of the UW study was to “test the so-called ‘shallowing hypothesis,’ described in the Nicholas Carr bestseller, The Shallows, and by some social neuroscientists.” I couldn’t find too much literature describing neuroscientists research on “shallowing,” but consider how some prominent researchers described social neuroscience in a National Institute of Mental Health funded paper:
“Work toward this goal could beneﬁt from more interactions across investigators whose focus is on animal models,lesion patients, neuroimaging in normal and in patient populations, and peripheral neural mechanisms……The reliance on self-report measures of psychological symptoms is problematic in that (a) the same symptoms may arise from different psychological disorders, (b) reports of symptoms might be biased according to social context”
In other words, physical research is an important element to understand how external factors affect our brain activity. Texting, as an example. And results obtained by self-reporting are problematic because of context. If you send out a hundred texts today, will you be more shallow than you were yesterday? I doubt it.
Sea change? Yes. End of the world? No.
“Shallowing” and the desire to understand the effect of texting and social media are examples of our need to understand how these technologies impact us. I’ve never read anyone assert that the technologies of digital natives won’t be disruptive to the way that we communicate. But from a common sense perspective, if teenagers are more shallow because of texting – what tangible measurement substantiates this? Is more discretionary income going towards body spray and Ke$ha records? Where is this text-enabled shallowness evident in the real world?
What do you think? Do you buy the hypothesis that kids are more shallow because they text? What are social media? Is this research valuable to your understanding of the world or your own behaviors?