Textless Board Addresses Importance of Campaign
by Catie Wise on Thursday, March 10th, 2016
On clear, sunny July 2nd, 2013, 13 bicyclists were biking down a straight road in Arkansas. With neon flags waving off the back their bikes, the cyclists expected this day of their six week long bike ride across the U.S. to be ordinary. Teagan Ross Martin, 21 years old at the time, was driving down this same road, eyes looking between his phone and the road. “He sent a text at 4:01. Another at 4:02. One more at 4:03. And then he slammed into the bikers, hitting eight of them, including Merritt. He placed the call to 911 at 4:04,” as reported by Boston Common Magazine. Merritt Levitan, holding up the back of the pack, received the brunt of the hit, although five other bikers were also severely injured. She was then airlifted to Memphis, TN where in her critical condition, she was put on life-support. Shortly after, her family flew out to see her for what seemed like the last time, and within 24-hours, Merritt was taken off life-support.
Stop and take a second. Imagine waking up one morning, expecting everything to be exactly how it was the day before. Except this day, you injured or even killed someone because you just had to answer one text. Imagine the feeling after the incident, the guilt you feel for ruining someone else’s life, and even your own. Imagine never being able to get rid of this feeling. Imagine talking, apologizing to their family. Is any text worth it?
Although the tragic death of Merritt Levitan devastated the Milton community, it also kick-started the creation of a national movement: the TextLess Live More campaign. While still trying to cope with the sudden loss of a beloved friend, four Milton students — Emmie Atwood ‘14, Abby Lebovitz ‘14, Kaitlin Gately ‘14, and Erika Lamere ‘15 — felt inspired to educate the community about the dangers of texting while driving. Even though TextLess Live More started as a platform for creating awareness of an issue that is becoming increasingly relevant in our technology-dependent society, it has evolved into a story that is far more complex than simply “don’t text while driving.” We believe that being phone-free while driving is an important lesson for TextLess Live More to teach; however, the Live More aspect is also critical. At Milton Academy, our goal is more defined than the overall TextLess Live More campaign, due to our special connection through Merritt.
While much of TextLess Live More’s goal is about decreasing the habit of using a phone while driving, Merritt herself embodied the “Live More” aspect of TextLess. In fact, Merritt’s last Facebook post read, “Leaving tomorrow to bike across the US with Overland Summers! No phone or Internet or any other form of communication for 6 weeks. Super excited!” Merritt was always able to bring a group of people together, whether it be the Tennis or Ski Team, a group of students in class, or the Milton Measure staff. According to her dad, Richard Levitan, “she had this gift where she connected. You knew she was with you when she was with you.” TextLess Days serve as a reminder to be more like Merritt, to be more engaged in school and conversations with friends.
According to merrittsway.org, TextLess Live More’s goal as a campaign is both to “raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving to save lives and prevent tragic accidents [and also] to encourage people to use technology in a mindful manner.” As a board at Milton, we strive to honor the original goal. Because of this commitment, we try to show PSAs about the benefits of not texting while driving, but we do not want to over-focus on the not-texting-while-driving aspect, which we believe we have done in past years. Since over 50% of the community cannot drive, we try to make the campaign more relatable to the student body through balancing both the “TextLess” and the “Live More” aspects. However, Milton also has a unique relationship with the TextLess campaign, since it was founded by our own students. Because of this, we feel that as a board, we aspire to a different goal, geared specifically towards Merritt’s legacy, than the overall goal of the campaign. We hope that by spending a day detached from technology, students will be able to get in the habit of being less dependent on their phones during their everyday lives. We see TextLess days as practice, to get in the habit of being phone-free, especially when getting behind the wheel. We also feel that events such as the TextLess Live More Summer Concert, the T-Shirt Contest, and our open meetings act as a platform to spread awareness for and to start conversation about the campaign.
Regardless of knowing who Merritt was or what she stood for, students should have the willpower to stay off their phones for a few hours simply by understanding the message that the TextLess campaign stands for. Ashleigh Hogan (II) did not know Merritt, but she says, “TextLess Days have brought awareness to me, specifically regarding how much I relies on my cell phone. During TextLess Days, talking with my friends helps me to realize the importance of unplugging for a little while.” Phones provide a constant outlet for games and distractions when we are bored. As a result, we become reliant on our phones in awkward or uneventful situations instead of learning to become in touch with others around us. Our hope as a board is that after TextLess Days students realize the ease and effortlessness of disconnecting and as a result spend less time on their phones. Emily Bell (II) asserts that “when you are not willing to experience a day disconnected, you are not deserving of the benefits that will follow, you are depriving those around you of these benefits, you are displaying that you are not ready to take the risk that comes with eliminating the safety net that is your phone, and most importantly you are exemplifying exactly the person that needs this disconnection most.” Sadie Murray, a new freshman who did not know Merritt and did not see Merritt’s impact on the Milton community, still participates in TextLess Days so that “in the long run, [she] will hopefully be able to have days and moments without having [her] phone.”
We know that as time continues, and the student body’s connection to Merritt gets thinner and thinner, the board will have to work that much harder in order to keep TextLess Live More alive. However, there are so many more people than just the seniors at Milton, the last grade that overlapped with Merritt in the Upper School, that were and still are affected by Merritt. The connection does not stop with the students of Milton. Teachers such as Ms. Baker, Dr. Richards, and Ms. Pulit had a connection to Merritt that makes them see the importance of TextLess on our community. In fact, one day in Creative Writing class, Ms. Baker points to a student’s Merritt’s Way, blue bracelet and says “I love what you guys are doing with TextLess. I had been around Merritt a few times, and I could tell that she was a great person to be around.”
We, two board members of TextLess Live More at Milton Academy, challenge you to find your connection not only to TextLess Live More, but also to TextLess days. Take note every time you want to reach for your phone, leave your phone in your backpack while in the Student Center, spend big chunks of normal school days phone-free, don’t bring your phone to meals, or whatever it may be that makes you feel connected to the campaign we both see as a very important part of the Milton community. Any time spent away from technology contributes to becoming more present like Merritt was.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=7799