For most college students, 1992 is history.
Anything that happened then has simply been that way forever. Clint Eastwood became a surly old man in “Unforgiven,” Banksy became the lovable rascal of the art world and — in possibly the most important development in college students’ consciousness — the first text message-capable cell phone was released.
The Nokia 1011 was a blocky model almost eight inches tall, weighing more than a pound and capable of holding up to 99 phone book entries. Mobile phone technology has come a long way since then, and as it has evolved, so has the generation that grew up with it.
Chair of the Louisiana State U. Department of Sociology Wesley Shrum said the generation that grew up with text messaging has been integral in making it relevant.
“Text messaging can only be important as it becomes a possibility for almost all students,” he said.
In 2011, 72 percent of cell-phone users in the United States paid for text packages, amounting to 203 million people, according to a Neustar survey. These people sent an average of 2.5 billion messages every day, according to the same survey.
Shrum said people have accepted texting as part of their social lives and organically created new social rules related to it, which explains why texting in public or in company has become a norm rather than a taboo.
“People are approaching a common understanding of what is rude,” he said.
According to Shrum, text messaging has not fundamentally changed the way people form relationships, but instead provided different methods for people to do so.
“It doesn’t improve relationships or make them worse. It provides new opportunities for relationships,” he said.
But not everyone agrees that text messaging is so benign. Lance Porter, the head of LSU’s Digital Media Initiative and a professor in the Manship School of Mass Communication, said text messaging and online communications have been detrimental to the modern generation’s face-to-face social skills.
“You can’t get full meaning or context from a text message,” Porter said. “People are more comfortable with them because they take less time and less attention than a conversation.”
Porter said this reluctance to speak in person is stunting the personal growth of the Millennials, the generation born from the mid-1980s up to 2000.
“Millennials don’t like face-to-face conflict. You probably have friends that have broken up through a text message,” he said.
Most students agree that this is the largest problem with texting, and they say moderation is the best policy.
“I don’t really like texting now,” said Nicki Klimacek, a communication disorders sophomore at LSU. “It makes personal relationships harder to maintain, and being older, relationships are more important. It’s kind of a high school thing.”
But while they agree texting can cause problems, it can be hard for students to ignore the text message’s convenience.
“I used to always talk on the phone. I would call my mom on the phone, but now I text her. It’s 50-50; it has its advantages and disadvantages,” said Bruce Jackson, an LSU marketing freshman.
Porter also said text messaging and social media have made it more difficult for young people to focus on single tasks.
“We’re a society of multi-tasking,” Porter said. “The problem is, our brains can’t multi-task.”
Porter said he has seen this effect on students firsthand as a professor, and it has affected their performance in academics.
Shrum said students will decide if they should be productive in class regardless of their ability to text.
“I can sit in a lecture and not pay attention just as well with or without a mobile phone,” he said.