Hypersociality and texting

I understand that most service providers are the same. You can see it is in the provider's interest not to supply features they don't have to, and when it might impact hypersociality (which they make a ton of money out of) why should they?

In March my 14-year-old son managed to send/receive a total of almost 4,000 text messages. Assuming an average of 10 hours available for texting per day and a nominal 30 days per month, he's averaging around 13 texts per hour! That is, in my humble and aged opinion, madness. It illustrates a phenomenon that has appeared in many guises since the rise of the Internet: hypersocial behavior.

Hypersociality is about being in constant contact - having a level of presence awareness and connection but very little information exchange over long periods of time. This means that spending three or four hours a day dealing with e-mail isn't hypersocial, whereas handling each message as it arrives on your Blackberry is (they don't call 'em Crackberries for nothing).

Hypersociality isn't, per se, a bad thing, but when it is taken to an extreme it is simply antisocial because you can't really be present with the people you're with when you are constantly involved in remote conversations. This not only alienates your present company but also makes them want to crush your device of choice.

In the case of our son the texting was aided and abetted by, ahem, myself. Yes, I let him have a Sidekick 2, which is, I must say, a really cool, well-designed device. If you haven't played with one of these do so the next time you get a chance.

The Sidekick has a flip-around screen covering a keyboard that is quite useable even for someone like me with the dexterity of an orangutan wearing boxing gloves. Add to that the unlimited data plan and what teenager with well-developed hypersociality wouldn't be happy and hooked? (Mrs. Gibbs claims that it is called a Sidekick because it is meant to be kicked with the side of your foot.)

Even though our son is an honors student and a really good kid, management here believes the young man seems to be overdoing the texting. We keep a close eye on what he's up to. I check his grades online pretty much every other day, e-mail with his teachers at the drop of a hat, and not much slips by. Getting his Sidekick confiscated at school was the trigger for me to seek some controls, so I checked with our service provider, T-Mobile, to find out what limitations I could apply to his account.

Like any cell phone service subscriber my first point of enquiry had been T-Mobile's Web site. What can you say? T-Mobile is about on par with other cellular providers when it comes to any kind of customer service: profoundly unsatisfying.

For example, the primary account on the T-Mobile service is mine (I have a Razr v3) and when I log on to My T-Mobile I get a number of portal applets specifically related to having a Sidekick, so it's clear they know I have one. Unfortunately when I click on "COMMUNICATION TOOLS" I get sent to the Sidekick site and told that "Your T-Mobile phone number was not found in our system." This is stupid. Anyone from T-Mobile want to explain this?

The site was no help at all so I called my local T-Mobile agent, who provides infinitely better service than T-Mobile can. The agent told me that no such features are available. Amazing! You can't even turn texting off, let alone limit it or even see text message sources and destinations unless the texts are being charged for out of plan. This is not what you want when you have kids to manage.

I understand that most service providers are the same. You can see it is in the provider's interest not to supply features they don't have to, and when it might impact hypersociality (which they make a ton of money out of) why should they?

Our son has since mended his hypersocial ways and modified his texting habits. He still texts like crazy but not around us and not in class. As he just pulled straight A's and doesn't play video games I have nothing to complain about.

So, I wonder what parents who can't watch their kids as closely do? What goes on that they simply have no way of tracking or controlling because the cell phone providers don't care?

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Mark Gibbs

Network World
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