When ZDNet Grasps For Legitimacy

I subscribe to the ZDNet newsletter, which is essentially an email I receive twice a day during the work week that has a bunch of headlines and excerpts from their various blogs. In general, I appreciate both the newsletter and their articles, and even though their discussion system sucks, they usually have some helpful or insightful blog entries.

But sometimes I wonder where they find these people. When you write for a tech site but have no connection to the real world, it becomes painfully obvious that you’re something of a hack. When reading The Allure of the Text by Christopher Dawson, I was stunned by both his shortsightedness and his ignorance.

Dawson essentially states that he has never texted before and, though he’s yelled at the kids on his lawn to go text somewhere else, he has trouble understanding why they’d bother typing into the tiny keyboards built into cell phones. Sure, maybe it’s more private than talking out loud, but it’s a pain and, besides, how can you see the screen without your bifocals on?

But then he has a revelation. Texting is similar to email! I can have multiple conversations going at once!

Dawson then laments the stupidity of kids, who are clearly just wasting time with texting when they could be using it for more glorious pursuits like collaboration.

I was stunned, because I don’t think I’ve ever read such a stupid piece of rubbish. The assumptions of this guy were mind-boggling, not just because they were derogatory but due to how ill-informed they were.

Texting is more prevalent with people younger than myself; I missed the cell-phone-boom by a couple of years. Yes, most of us had cell phones in high school, but not everyone did, and they were really intended only for emergencies. Now the devices are ubiquitous and a lot of people use them as their primary communication device. Students aren’t using texting to plan the next kegger, they’re using it to schedule tutoring sessions, get directions, and generally as a primary means of communication. It is replacing both email and instant messaging, powerfully influencing the way this generation will do business in the future.

If you want to connect with a younger person, you need to be texting. I can’t get my niece to even reply to messages within a week on MySpace, and forget about email, but she’ll get back with a text message in minutes. April tutors high school students, several of whom can only be reached through texting. And universities are beginning to realize the necessity for texting as prospective students request text communication over snail- or even e-mail.

Here’s a hint, Chris: the kids are way ahead of you, already doing ten times the communicating and collaborating you can imagine. And if you’re not careful, they’re going to overtake and replace you.

5 thoughts on “When ZDNet Grasps For Legitimacy

  1. I’ll have to disagree with you on this, partially. While texting seems to be the current fad, that doesn’t mean it’s good or efficient. Yes, you can be having multiple, semi-communicative conversations at once. But these conversations become distilled to electronic grunts, the “lol”s, “ttyl”s, “imo”s, etc. Good for short snippets for conveying times and places, but as a replacement for other means of communication: severely lacking.

    It may be a highly convenient way of sending simple messages, but as an effective means of communicate it is severely lacking – and I believe this was the point of Chris’ article. Simply because it’s the trend doesn’t mean it’s good, and I think we all tend to forget that little fact. Email is MUCH more efficient as a way of communication than either direct phonecalls or texts. Your messages are saved, easily organized, and can even be threaded to show a history in ways that text messages simply can’t because of hardware and bandwidth restrictions. And anything big enough to have a keyboard you can actually use with the speed of a full-sized keyboard might as well be a netbook, and then the discussion becomes moot because you’d be using email.


  2. I agree that email is more efficient. What set me off about the article was the progression of logic: Texting = Worthless | Wait, no, Texting = Awesome | Kids currently texting = Worthless.

    For quick question/answer when the data is limited (times, locations, other short answers), texting can be a quick and easy way to share information when you’re not at a computer or near a WAP. And even though Chris is just now figuring this out, that doesn’t mean others haven’t.

    I recently shared some information with someone that they didn’t know, and they looked at me with astonishment. “How could you already know that?” My knowledge came from quick communication, and texting is a tool for that. We would do well to not underestimate those who have been using the tools just because we are only now discovering them.


  3. I have to wonder how closely you read my article. I don’t say that I don’t text – I said it took me a while to understand the value. Obviously, tools like BlackBerries and iPhones make texting a heck of a lot easier and more efficient.

    I also didn’t say that what kids text now isn’t of value. It’s of no less value than their conversations in the halls. However, from an educational perspective, we need to find a way to tap into this means of communication and teach its use for more productive means than chatting during class. It has broad applicability and utility as a communications tool.

    I’m hardly underestimating the kids; I also know full well that kids aren’t thinking about text/IM as a business or collaboration tool. My article urged educators to turn around a proficiency that most kids enjoy and help them utilize it outside of personal/non-business/non-educational settings.


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