Reflecting on the First Year of TextLess
by Katie Berry on Friday, June 6th, 2014
Merritt Levitan felt the same way about her phone as the average teenager: “it’s sometimes ironic,” said Abby Lebovitz (I), one of the founders of the TextLess Live More campaign, “because she did love to text.” Although Merritt enjoyed texting, she valued endeavors like tennis, skiing, teaching, and socializing more. The greatest misfortune is that Merritt was doing what she loved most—being active and present, pursuing her passion for challenges and the outdoors by cycling across the country—when her life ended due to a driver distracted by his phone.
The tragedy, which could have easily shattered Milton’s community, instead unified it. “As we started into the year, and as we processed Merritt’s loss, I was so proud of the direction in which we headed,” recalled Mr. Bland. “When a person feels lost, channeling energy positively can be therapeutic. TextLess Live More is the consummate silver lining: it’s something amazing emerging from something so sad.”
The six TextLess days—pre-ordained periods of 7-9 hours in which pledge-makers sported their pale blue wristbands and kept their phones shut off—were amazingly well-received in encapsulating that spirit of hope and recovery. Erika Lamere (II), another founder of the initiative, was confident that Merritt would have appreciated the success of legacy. “She once told me something that I’ll never forget: ‘Don’t be sad, Erika. It’s not worth it.’ And she was so unbelievably right. We’re trying to remind people that we are happiest when we are living in the moment with our phones switched off and in our pockets.”
Erika’s hypothesis was validated by the feedback the campaign received. “It was annoying at first, but later in the day I felt a lot more relaxed without constantly feeling obliged to check my phone,” said Santa Vivar (II). He is only one of many who participated in the event. Although the number of participants fluctuated, school-wide participation reached a high of around 90% this year, according to Emmie Atwood (I), another of Textless’ founders and Merritt’s close friend. She added, “That’s around 635 phones’ tiny power-off noises playing in morning assembly, and close to 4,500 hours spent without sending a single text—all in one day.”
Unfortunately, the TextLess campaign became less effective after the its immediate success; student involvement slid after the first few TextLess days, according to Kaitlin Gately (I), another founder of the initiative. However, participation in TextLess relies on the honor system and is impossible to quantify–who really knows if the participants are truly relegating their phones to their pockets?
Even the most vigilant of advocates wouldn’t notice if you were to sneak a cursory glance at Facebook under your desk. But the total rejection of technology, added Emmie, has never been the point of the campaign. “Our goal is not to completely revolutionize the outlook of the entire student body on phone-use. Rather, if on a TextLess day, at least one person rethinks the way he uses his phone or… resists the urge to text and drive, then I feel as if the campaign is being successful.”
Consequently, TextLess days are about more than remembering Merritt–they are about minimizing the number of lives that are lost in such a preventable way and raising an awareness for what Mr. Bland calls “The Big Disconnect” after a book of the same name by Catherine Steiner-Adair. In his opinion, “TextLess Live More will only become more successful because it’s a uniquely student-to-student initiative—a group of young adults speaking candidly to other young adults about what they feel is important—so it’s accepted and even embraced by communities much more readily than if they were being patronized by someone with a PhD or an impressive resumé.”
TextLess has undoubtedly achieved great heights in these first eleven months since Merritt’s death; however, Abby, Emmie, and Kaitlin all hope to bring TextLess with them to their respective colleges, and with it the live-in-the-moment attitude that Merritt encompassed to thousands of college students. Their plans for this spring alone include the construction of a website and the filming of PSA videos created by Milton students, as well as a TextLess event on the quad on the evening of June 24th.
The event will be a celebration of TextLess’ accomplishments, of Merritt, and of Milton Academy, because even though TextLess has been embraced by almost 50 schools as far-flung as California and Spain, Milton is ultimately its focus and its home. Next year, the TextLess representatives at Milton will be Erika Lamere (II), Lucy Nachmanoff (II), Olivia Bell (II), and Cassandra Rice (II), leading us into what Mr. Bland terms “the ongoing battle”: the fight to get our attentions off of our phones and into the world.
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