Short Message Service (SMS) message volumes continue to grow significantly in the United States each year. Mobile subscribers sent and received more than 900 billion SMS messages in 2008. This is an increase of 132 percent over the 2007 SMS volumes. SMS penetration also increased from 45 percent to 53 percent in 2008. Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) message volumes increased from less than 15 billion in 2007 to approximately 32 billion in 2008-more than a 120 percent increase. SMS and MMS traffic are expected to grow even more in the coming years.
With the continued growth of this technology comes the rising misuse of it. This is where the problem of “sexting” comes in. In sexting, the child who sends inappropriate pictures to their friends via their camera phone ends up being both the perpetrator and the victim of child pornography. They are a self-victim since the photos are of themselves and they are the perpetrator since they used the Internet to send explicit or inappropriate photos of a minor. Some teens have been arrested for promoting child pornography over sexting. Clearly, some things are wrong here. But, things like this have happened before. Here’s the story.
If you look back at the turn of the last century, around 1900, most traffic in transportation in major cities was achieved via horse and buggy. The dirt streets became muddy and filthy at the same time. It was a mess. The development of asphalt eliminated the muddy ruts in the roads, and the development of the automobile made transportation cleaner and faster. But, in less than 50 years, major freeway traffic jams developed in most American cities. We are still dealing with them today.
The horse and buggy “clogged muddy road” era was replaced with the “clogged freeway at rush hour” era. New technologies (paved roads and automobiles) made it easy for anyone to travel just about anywhere in the United States in one tenth of the time. But it also created new problems of traffic congestion and pollution that couldn’t have been predicted 100 years earlier.
Sexting: Misuse of New Technology in the 1990s
Fast forward to the 1990s. Sending information across the Unites States, or around the world, took hours to days and was expensive or time-consuming using short-wave radio or telegraph. Then, we created high-speed data networks (the Internet) and a structure to allow people to easily share information (the Web). The entire process of sharing information became pervasive and easy for anyone to access just about any information at any time.
The Internet and the Web also allowed people to misuse the new technology for child pornography, identity theft and gambling scams. Again, the new information technologies provided a wonderful way of creating and instantly sharing information around the world, but it also created a whole set of new problems-many of which required new laws to deal with them.
Here we go again with sexting. Is a 13-year-old sending an inappropriate photo of himself or herself to a friend truly “child pornography”? Perhaps. But I know one surefire way to put an end to it: send a copy of every text message and MMS message created or received by a child to the parents who are paying the bill. Every teen in the country would yell out, “No way!”
Sure, it violates privacy but so does someone in a corporate IT department being told by management to review the information on an employee’s notebook hard drive, or being told to read an employee’s e-mail stored on the company server. The company owns the asset (the notebook PC) and has the right to authorize review of the employee’s information if they believe the employee might be violating company policy or breaking the law.
Perhaps the best policy for sexting is to discuss the problem with your kids and agree to some behavior “standards” (family policy), and then have trust until the policy is violated, with consequences given for the violations (for example, “I’m taking your phone away for the next week”).
Remember, each new technology ushers in a wave of tremendous benefits, but also trailing right behind the wave of new technology is a dust cloud of new problems that need to be managed.
For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people’s mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at [email protected].