Most of the time, when my text-message signal chimes, it’s my 13-year-old asking if I’ll pick him up at the bus stop (which is four-tenths of a mile from our house, so the answer is usually no, though sometimes I say I’ll meet him along the way on foot). Some of the time, it’s my 13-year-old asking what I’m making for dinner or, if it happens that he’s home and I’m out, when I’ll be back and whether I’ll make him some hot chocolate once I get home.
It’s no secret that 13-year-olds love text-messaging, and mine has certainly found a way to make it work for him by making it easier than ever to ask favors of his hard-working mother.
Once a week or so, though, the text-message chime signals something else: a short missive from my phone service provider explaining how to do something. These weekly tips inform me about new apps I might want to download, new data plans that might save me money, or new shortcuts to make using the phone more efficient. And they always end the same way: “To stop receiving these tips, text STOP to this number.”
I always laugh when I get to that part. Information on how to stop receiving tips? Tips intended to save me money, boost my efficiency or make everyday phone use more interesting? Why on earth would I want to do that?
“To the contrary; keep ‘em coming!” I sometimes tell my phone when I see that message.
The truth is, if anything I’d like to get more tips, from more sources, and about more areas of my life. Not long-form advice or counsel, necessarily – though there are certainly times I could use that also – but short, simple, tweet-worthy tips. It would be fine with me if I received lots more text-message advice nuggets: about nutrition, work habits, housekeeping, exercise, parenting.
I don’t mean to suggest there isn’t plenty of advice available on these topics. It’s just that the packaging of these little nuggets of useful information is so appealing. I find them easy to read and easy to use. Sure I could read entire books on parenting or time management. Truth be told, I have, many times. Sometimes they’re useful; sometimes not, and as many literary critics have pointed out, sometimes the best guidance for how to optimize one’s personal life doesn’t appear on the self-help shelf of the bookstore at all but in the works of Austen, Dostoevsky, Thoreau or Faulkner.
And sometimes, that’s just too much information to try to accommodate at once. Not so with AT&T text messages. “Download this app to track your mileage!” it will say, or “Save money on your next phone bill by consolidating your data plan!”
Keep sending them, I say. I imagine the other messages I might benefit from: “Don’t eat cookies after lunch!” “Think twice before hitting ‘send’ on your next email!” “Let the car at the intersection cut in ahead of you.”
Someday in the future, this might well be the case; all kinds of simple guidance may arrive in the palm of my hand by text message. For now, all I have is the phone company offering me a shortcut to directory assistance. But I’ll take it.
Text “stop” to stop receiving tips? Not a chance. I need all the advice I can get – and when it arrives in 140 characters or fewer, who can say no?