THE ISLAND SYNDROME
Part 2: A Link Between Biology and Technology
(September 15, 2010)
On January 7, 2009, a California newspaper, The Orange County Register, published an article by Greg Hardesty entitled "My Daughter Racked Up 14,528 Text Messages in One Month". Within this article, Hardesty, who lives in Lake Forest, California, discussed his 13-year-old daughter Reina.
The most important point was that, during a recent school break, Reina sent and received a massive number of text messages. To be precise, between November 27 and December 26, 2008 (just 30 days), Reina sent and received 14,528 text messages. Hardesty wrote the article as if the whole thing were a big joke. As we will see, this is not at all the case.
To be fair to Reina, I will note that she claims that not all the messages were hers. She says she gets a lot of forwards and unsolicited multimedia messages, which she deletes. Let us be generous, then, and assume that 10 percent of the messages were not Reina's. Still, this leaves us with 13,075 text messages in a 30-day period.
Obviously, Reina spends a lot of time texting, so let's see if we can quantify her behavior. To be conservative, we will assume that Reina spreads out her texting over the entire day, except when she is sleeping. (Remember, this was during the winter break, so Reina was not in school.) Based on what her father wrote in the article, it is reasonable to assume that Reina sleeps 8.5 hours a night, leaving the rest of the time, 15.5 hours a day, available for texting.
This young lady, like many other young people, is addicted to text messaging.
Doing the calculations we see that, on the average, Reina sends or receives a message every 128 seconds. A bit of thought makes it clear that Reina, like many other young people is addicted to text messaging. How else can you explain a 13-year-old girl managing to text about once every two minutes for 15.5 hours a day, day after day after day? By any standard, this is astonishing behavior.
Remember, also, that what we have here is a generous estimate. We not only discounted 10 percent of the messages, we assumed that the texting was spread out evenly over the entire day. Most likely, this is not the case. Indeed, we would expect that there are many long bursts of activity during which Reina is texting far more often than once every two minutes.
Why would someone do this?
Reina describes her habits as follows: "I just have a lot of people that I text all the time. Like, the first thing I ask after I get to know them is their cell phone number, and if they have unlimited texting. I have like four close friends that I'm constantly texting. I don't really think there is a point. It's just fun to talk."
Reina is mistaken. There is a point to all the texting, and there are important reasons why Reina and people like her become text message addicts. However, before we discuss what happening and why, I'd like to offer another example of excessive behavior.
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