two thousand twenty
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By John Addyman

   I have seen signs of the end of civilization as we know it.
   A week ago, my wife and I were in the gym, doing our miles on the treadmills. Three teenage girls walked in, each about 15 or 16.
   The three of them approached the first exercise machine.
   And I stared at them. I couldn’t help it.
   Each young woman was holding a cell phone in her hand, in the gym.
   People do bring cell phones into the gym with them, especially the ones that can play music for you while you exercise -- but they're the minority. And you rarely, rarely hear one ring or see someone talking on a cell phone. And when someone does have a conversation, it’s usually brief. Quite understandable. 

   Nobody spends a lot of time reading cell-phone texts on a speeding treadmill – that’s how you end up in a heap on the floor when the treadmill throws you off for not paying attention to what you’re doing.
   It is a gym.
   But these girls were busy communicating while they were in the gym. They were reading messages. They were texting responses.
   The three of them got to the first machine, and one girl got on it, with her cell phone in her left hand -- she never put it down. The other two girls had their eyes glued to the screens on the cell phones.
   After about three repetitions, the first girl got off the machine and the second girl took her place – and each was holding her cell phone. The young lady who got off the machine was busy texting…and I got the distinct impression she was texting what she had just done on the machine – and that she was texting that data to the two girls who were right in front of her!
   The process repeated itself. One girl on the machine, the other two paying apt attention to their cell phones.
   So in tune with what was playing and unfolding on their little screens, these three girls wouldn’t have known it if zombies had started to rapel from the ceiling where they had been hiding. The girls wouldn’t have noticed that one by one, all the other people in the gym had been eaten by swarms of scarab beetles flooding from an Egyptian tomb. They would have been the last to know that the blob was about to ingest the whole building. The only way the three would have known that Freddy Kruger was slicing up the customers is if one of them managed to send a text to the others while being eviscerated.
   They came to the gym with a purpose which was, I suppose, to get some exercise. Based on how little time they spent the machines – and how much texting they did while they were there – the only muscles being developed were in their thumbs.
   I see teens in public and they all have their heads down – not because they’re ashamed of something, but because they’re reading and texting. Makes you wonder how many head injuries doctors see in emergency rooms from kids so busy texting and reading texts that they walk into walls or each other. The television ad that shows the kid so frustrated with his dad reading a text that he throws the ball at his dad’s head…maybe that’s part of the emergency room statistic, too.
    What bothered me is that as I watched these girls fritter away a half-hour in the gym, I can’t remember seeing them exchange more than a word or two. Again, I get the idea they were texting each other rather than talking.
   A couple of things bother me about that. First, because they weren’t talking, chances are what they were texting wasn’t nice. If their thoughts were nasty, why voice them where others could hear what was on their minds? Texting provides a privacy buffer for delivering and receiving ugly social commentary. No wonder cyberbullying has become a real issue for kids today.
   Second, one of the important things about growing up is the ability to communicate in various environments, with all kinds of people. The emphasis and importance teens place on texting closes the circle of people they communicate with. 
   It also means there are different levels of communication – one is probably incredibly honest – reserved for friends, and the other is a game, a textual play used with people you have to satisfy to some degree – like teachers and parents. Kids have certainly been doing that for eons, but texting expands the private “friends” language to become a much more pervasive part of a young person’s life – one parents and teachers will find hard to reach or replicate. That means our kids have a mechanism to get farther away from us, faster. 
   And that’s not a good thing.


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