virtual children by Scott Warnock

A license to text

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With extensive apologies to my many Ayn Rand-loving, small government-promoting friends, it’s pretty clear to me that the textual communications associated with cell phones have to come under the government eye. Something must be done. We need, quite simply, age-based and perhaps behavior-based texting control: A Texting License.

You need licenses to do all kinds of things from hair weaves to clamming, but you can be any age to go through the astonishing complexity associated with the writing and massive, nearly instantaneous distribution of electronic communications. I’m not talking about using a cell phone to make a quaint and silly thing called a phone call.  I’m talking about the pressures and psychological drain of writing electronically, which seem clearly more onerous and challenging than many licensed tasks, including driving. In fact, texting may be so much more difficult and perhaps relationship-disrupting than even things like marrying (!), that the Texting License age should probably be set at 18.

You may feel that comparing texting with driving is comparing apples to oranges. Maybe you’re right. But maybe you’re wrong. Certainly, errant and irresponsible texting has claimed lives in a variety of ways. And drunken texting is worse.

Bullies and sexters everywhere will be incensed by a Texting License, but how can they deny the need for guidelines and oversight on textual behaviors in this tricky digital rhetorical environment?

Because texting is rhetorical. It is digital. It is tricky. The equivalent of writing an irony-tinged half-hearted birthday message to a person who was your friend last week but is now not due to personally transgressive Instagram captions and then sending that message while trying to remain aware that it will likely (and quickly!) be seen by dozens, hundreds, and maybe thousands of electrical lurkers, both malevolent and benign (in the words of the old Fiend Folio), is at least as challenge-fraught as parallel parking a lumbering pick-up truck on a narrow one-way street while a van full of angry house painters behind you shouts obscenities.

Indeed, restraining one’s self from dashing off an angry revenge text to someone who just wounded your pride digitally instead of calmly walking away takes a kind of maturity and advancedness of age similar to that of the careful decision-making of the bad-weather driver who was just cut off by a pink VW bug, and that behavior should be recognized, licensed, and reinforced by state-sanctioned punishment. (I’m aware that licensing is not a god-like stamp of success, as the many Mojito-filled drivers on American roads on any given weekend night would attest.)

A Texting License would be easy to enforce. Cell phone companies, which are ripping us off mercilessly and have plenty of money, would have to follow the rules. If you’re too young, you simply can’t text. If you lose your license, any account you sign up for would require a background check that would refuse you. Your name would also be attached to an instant reply-type app that says, “This User Banned from Texting.” Better yet, because of ever-traceable digital footprints, punishments for texting would extend not just to the texter but to the willing recipient of these scofflaws’ textual messages. If you text with someone underage, you’re in even bigger trouble.

You may not like all this. You may prefer texting rather than talking to humans, especially your own kids, but this is the way things are going in our digital future. Writing is challenging. Writing electronic messages to multiple audiences is even more difficult. Not just anyone should be trusted and privileged to engage in these communicative behaviors. We need a Texting License to prevent the damaging and harmful social effects of texting.

If this is politically unpalatable, I’ll trade you a Texting License for two hair salon licenses and a Minnesota pumpkin license. Is there anything more pressing that we need protection from than the dangers of wanton digital communications?

It’s summer and everyone needs a break from everyone else. I’ll see you in a month.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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5 Responses to “A license to text”

  1. Another fee/tax forgive them lord they know not what they do. People are tired of fees and taxes and govt involvement. Stay the f away and stop telling us how to live. Wtf another bs fee in nj come on to go along with the already too many to f’ing count on a phone bill, ccmua quarterly tax, cherry hill sewer tax, state tax, Twp tax, keep paying for the shit hole Camden tax, its all too much.

  2. I guess no one reads you in the summer?
    Maybe the other two readers are on vacation?

  3. Crap. I’m supposed to have a clamming license?

  4. My hands are clammy as I type this. I didn’t know I needed a license for clamming.

    Yes, on the surface those of us who are suspicious of more government control, my initial reaction to yet another regulation was skepticism. However, the logical progression of your argument bears consideration.

    The US has required people to apply for a license, in some form, to broadcast over public airwaves for as long as there have been wired and wireless communications. The fact that a 5 or 10 or 16 year old can broadcast ANYTHING all over the world instantaneously gives pause for consideration.

    We have become so insulated to the possibilities of instant and far-reaching transmission of voice and text and video and photos. Is it right that we should allow a 12 year old girl to post a nude photo of herself worldwide and have that exist in eternity for the entire earth to see?

    A very thought-provoking column Scott. Sorry I didn’t see it sooner but I was texting while hair weaving clams into the hair of people running unlicensed lemonade stands.

  5. I think it’s a great idea to have a license to text. I have to have a lisence to communicate on HAM radio. So what’s the difference. It sucks when your talking to someone and there not even paying attention to you because there writing a book on the phone. Especially children.

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