Does walking and texting need a new app or do we need to do one thing at a time? Flickr/sidkid, CC BY-NC-ND

Do we need transparent texting to avoid a mobile accident?

With mobile phones, it’s understandable we walk directly into inanimate objects.

But now Apple has declared the problem solved, having secured the patent for Transparent Texting, a function that enables a device’s camera to “continuously capture and present video images as a background within a text messaging session currently being displayed by the device”.

With this technology, Apple claims to lower the risks associated with walking and texting, although there is little clarity on the matter of when we are likely to see this function in any iOS devices.

A text too far

Putting aside the fact that similar technology is inherent in a number of apps already on the market, a pertinent question comes to mind: have we really come this far that we are so connected that we need an app to help us not “stumble over an object”, as the patent says?

Police in the US try to reduce accidents from people texting while walking.

When American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor declared in 1911 that “in the past the man has been first; In the future the system must be first”, I doubt he considered how connected we might become to our modern devices.

Karl Marx bemoaned the ramifications of the capitalist production of technology, but never highlighted the issue of texting and walking.

Romanian literary critic Matei Calinescu wrote in Five Faces of Modernity that techno-political modernity is more or less in keeping with the history of friction between the modern and the traditional.

the doctrine of progress, the confidence in the beneficial possibilities of science and technology […] have been associated in various degrees with the battle for the modern.

Crowds queue outside Sydney’s Apple store for the latest iPhone. Flickr/Newtown grafitti, CC BY

Good technology?

On one side of this battle, to put it bluntly, we have those who proclaim technology to be the saviour of us all, while on the other, we see those who are acutely aware of the detrimental effects of an over-investment in new gadgets.

While the battle has been extremely heated at certain points throughout history, we can generally associate each sides’ modern incarnations with those who blindly line up around the block for the chance at purchasing the new iPhone, and those old silent friends who have never had a Facebook account.

I have identified with both camps at varying points. In 2011, I gave up new media and communication technologies for 80 days, as part of a PhD project.

Carl Honoré. Flickr/thinkingdigital, CC BY-NC-SA

It was during that project that I examined the work of journalist Carl Honoré, a go-to for proponents of “Slowness”, a notion that champions quality over quantity, and is calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient and reflective.

Honoré has written and presented widely, encouraging his audience to relax and “reach out to people”.

Arianna Huffington famously espouses Honoré’s work and has just released a book of her own, where she highlights the need to embrace wisdom and well being over wealth and power.

She points to HopeLab president Pat Christen, who realised that, due to her dependence on technology, “I had stopped looking in my children’s eyes”.

Switching off from technology

When I gave up modern technology, I found that my world grew smaller. I missed out on events because I didn’t see the Facebook invite. Friends were less likely to get in touch, because it was no longer as easy as sending an email, text or instant message.

But it was also quite pleasant at times. The occasions when I did hang out with my friends seemed more special because I would give them my full attention, which made me feel more connected to them (despite it often taking longer to track them down!).

Now that I’m back online, I try to think more carefully about how I use technology. Yes, there are days when I cannot avoid being constantly connected, but I also try to switch off some weekends and not open work email accounts after 5pm.

I am not saying that we should all throw our phones in the garbage. Rather, I believe that we should consider carefully the implications of technologies such as the transparent texting just patented by Apple.

Stop walking and take time to look around and read that text. Flickr/Pete, CC BY

How much additional time are we going to spend on our mobile devices as a result? How will we feel when our connectivity increases even further? How aware are we really going to be of what is going on around us? What are we neglecting when we focus much more on our messages?

And most importantly: what’s wrong with stopping for a moment and paying attention to the content of a text message? Are we really so busy that we can’t pull over to the left of a thoroughfare, enjoy the way the sun shines down on our modestly-sized screen, take a breath and then reply: K. THNX. WELL, CYA ;(

These are the questions we must consider when – or if – we begin using such technologies. The battle for the modern continues and we are the soldiers in a battlefield littered with “No Standing” signs.

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