Why must some San Francisco State University students exhibit disrespectful text messaging habits around campus and in the classroom?
Such behavior is particularly bothersome considering the technology's myriad communication benefits and surging popularity among students. Individuals in the 18-24 age group sent and received an average of 790 text messages per month in the second quarter of 2008 alone, according to Nielsen Mobile. The same source reported that "the typical U.S. mobile subscriber now sends and receives more text messages than they do mobile telephone calls."
Texting provides valuable public service on campus. Gayle Orr-Smith, SFSU's emergency preparedness coordinator, said the university's Emergency Notification System warns students, faculty and staff of an emergency via text messaging. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, when a student shooting spree left 32 dead and 25 wounded, such capability is reassuring.
At least the cacophony of cell phone conversations has died down. Even so, students must realize that text messaging, like nosepicking, has its proper time and place.
It is irksome to navigate campus through a gauntlet of students too preoccupied with texting to see where they are going. These oblivious, hunched creatures are known as textwalkers. They impede safe, expeditious pedestrian traffic flow, and occasionally cause unnecessary human collisions as well. California outlawed motorists from text messaging on Jan. 1. Maybe the law should be expanded to protect us from textwalkers, too.
Students who text in class not only needlessly disturb professors and fellow students, but also impede their own education as well.
"Many people believe they can 'multitask,' but research is clear ... the brain cannot perform two conceptual tasks at the same time," said Dr. Mindi Golden, assistant professor in SFSU's communication studies department. "It is impossible to focus on class content while checking messages or texting."
Neither the California State University Executive Order of Student Conduct nor SFSU Student Code of Conduct broaches text messaging etiquette.
Donna Cunningham, university coordinator for student judicial affairs, is aware of the text messaging issue and said, "Just about any law or policy takes years to catch up with what is really going on."
Some faculty took matters into their own hands, admonishing students to turn off or silence phones.
It is unlikely that the university will craft policy soon. Frankly, why go to the trouble when the solution is so painfully obvious? If students simply demonstrated equal parts courtesy, common sense and self-restraint, the problem would vanish overnight.
Note: This op-ed piece - authored by Christian Goepel - appeared in the Feb. 26, 2009, edition of the Golden Gate [X]Press.