Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Cell phones: 21st Century note passing

Time does fade memory, and often people can’t see the big picture. Specifically, some people just can't see how things are the same, only different.

So much is made about cell phones and how teenagers are different now. It is true that more and more teenagers would rather text than talk, e-mail rather than phone. Yet, was it so different for 1980s teenagers? I have a whole box full of notes written to me by friends who were girls. Note passing was as prevalent in the 1980s among teenage girls as texting is now.

The only difference is that potential third man is cut out. By that I mean, there is no chance a teacher can intercept a note and read it in front of the whole class. No chance a boy can grab it in the hall and use it against you later in the theatre of high school drama.

Even in the 1980s, teenagers already monopolized the phone for hours. I can recall at least two, no three girls in my class who had their own phones, with their own private lines in their rooms. Again, the only difference now is that most phones aren’t shared by a household like they used to be. In my case, shared with two other families as well on a party line. That means more privacy, which can be good and bad.

The same goes for bullying. Back then, teenagers were mean to each other too. Notes were passed that were mocking and hurtful, and there were mean and sometimes obscene phone calls.

Obviously, the biggest difference is the immediacy of communication. Today, it is instantaneous, and much more pervasive. Something posted in Facebook can go to hundreds of people in less than a second. The 1980s equivalent would have been to photocopy a note and pass it around – which never happened obviously. Social media also desensitizes people. They can be as mean as they want, hiding behind the comfort of their keyboard or phone. They can also be anonymous by creating whatever pseudonym or alias they like.

However, I still believe the behaviours we see today are not new. They occurred when I was in high school in the 1980s, the medium was just different. One of the things I regret most in my life as a teenager was sending a mean, spiteful note to a girl. It hurt her and diminished me. I did apologize as well, and it was via another note. Had that happened today, the whole thing would have happened via texting or messaging.

(Just out of interest, check out this news story from 1986, when I was in Grade 12, when the cell phone first made its appearance. Check out the price: $3,300, although it was set to come down to around $2,000.)

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