Saturday, January 03, 2009

Unlawful Text

Well, it's 2009, so have a happy 2009. But do you remember toward the end of last year when they had all those articles and comics about how glad people are to be finally saying goodbye to 2008? The idea was that since 2008 was the year of a huge economic disaster, now that it's finally over, the economy will start to improve again.

Well, we know better than that. We know that simply making the transition from December of one year to January of the next year doesn't do a thing. Poverty and sickness don't automatically disappear, wars continue to be fought, and the overall level of stupidity stays about the same.

That seems pretty obvious, but I may have overstated my case a little, since some things did automatically change on January 1st, 2009. For example, it's now illegal in California to drive while sending or reading text messages. As of last July, it was illegal to use a cell phone while driving, so I guess it was just a matter of time before the government took away our right to communicate via text messages as well.

Actually, I'm kidding about that part about the government taking away our rights. I'm totally in favor of the new law, although I'm not sure it would have ever been enacted if it weren't for that train crash last September in which 25 people were killed because the conductor was sending text messages when he should have been concentrating on not crashing the train.

So it's a good law, but to be honest, we shouldn't even need a law like this. We don't have laws prohibiting people from driving while engaged in the act of sandwich preparation or small appliance repair, nor do we have a law prohibiting people from driving while practicing the ancient Japanese art of paper folding known as origami.

In other words, we shouldn't need a law to prevent people from doing things that anyone with half a brain would never consider doing in the first place.

But keep in mind what I said earlier about the overall level of stupidity staying about the same. Apparently, many people lack the requisite amount of brain power, and it apparently never occurred to those people that driving while engaging in an activity that requires the use of both hands while looking at something other than the road in front of them is a potentially dangerous activity.

In any event, given the need for such a law, it's sort of amazing to me that when the law against talking on a cell phone while driving was made, our lawmakers apparently decided that texting while driving was still okay, considering it's so much easier to talk then to text.

I have trouble texting even when I'm not driving. But that might just be a matter of practice, since I never actually sent a text message to anyone. I just never saw the point in using a phone to send text messages when it's a lot easier and faster just to talk. It's sort of like if you're in a room with someone else, but instead of talking to each other, you decide to communicate by exchanging hastily-written notes.

There is a use for texting, like if you want to let someone know you'll be late, or to give someone a phone number, but for live interactive communication, it's clumsy and slow. I guess if you're a little kid and you want to carry on a conversation in class without having your teacher find out, texting is a decent substitute for a real conversation, but for everyone else in the world, it's just a dumb idea. You've already got a phone, so talk on it.

So I'll never be very adept at texting, and I can live with that. As a matter of fact, I decided to disable that feature on my phone, so don't try texting me because I won't receive your message. The reason is that I kept getting text spam, usually in the middle of the night, and the message would cause my phone to beep, which would wake me up. And then, of course, I had to pay for each incoming text spam message I received. And to make things worse, I couldn't read the messages because they were sent in HTML for some reason, so all I could see was the first 160 characters of an HTML file.

By the way, Japan, which always seems so far ahead of us in finding new uses for technology, has found a new use for text messages. Within the last five years or so, a lot of young Japanese women have written novels on their cell phones and published them one screen at a time. Apparently there are sites that allow you to post text messages publicly, and some of these sites have become so popular that the cell phone novels have been published by traditional book publishers, and the most popular of these books have sold millions of copies. Some of them have been adapted into plays, TV shows, and movies. The books have an abbreviated, slangy literary style, just the way most text messages do, but even some of the authors don't think they have any literary value. They're basically whining stories of troubled romances and teenage angst.

But the stories remain popular. As a matter of fact, there's at least one Japanese web site that allows you to convert your traditional manuscript to a cell phone style novel. I think it would be sort of interesting to compare a few original manuscripts with the converted ones, but it only works on Japanese text. However, cell phone novels are already being written in China, so it's just a matter of time before young women in the United States start writing them too.

I can't say I'm particularly looking forward to that. But at least when it happens, we'll already have a law preventing people from writing cell phone novels while driving.

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